The photographer as philosopher, part one

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Some weeks ago, I was exchanging emails with a reader from New Zealand; he threw out an interesting thought which has stuck with me since and definitely bears further examination (and I paraphrase to retain context): Where does the work of a photographer begin and end? Have we partially taken over the job of philosophers to interpret the world?

On further contemplation, there’s a lot more to this simple postulation that meets the eye. One of the things I’ve always believed (and openly stuck by) is that photography is art, and art is subjective; there are no absolute rights and wrongs. Here we draw the first parallel with philosophy: it isn’t science precisely because there’s no real right or wrong; heck, defining right and wrong is a topic unto itself. The real point is that both are interpretative, and biased by the point of view of the interpreter. The photographer captures – or tries to capture – what he sees, with the ultimate aim of conveying a certain image to the end viewer. Depending on the skill of the photographer, the image that gets conveyed may be no more than a limited representation of the scene, or it may be a heavily ‘controlled’ view in which the contents of the image are manipulated or carefully selected to force the intended audience to come to a premeditated conclusion. Very few images present things as-is and in an objective fashion – this is what there is and no more, no less – I’d in fact argue that it’s damn near impossible to do, because the very act of framing means that things have to be consciously left out of the final image whose inclusion or exclusion would affect the interpretation of the scene.

I’m not sure philosopher has even been the career of a sort which generates a decent survivable income without having to resort to academia; I suppose in that sense, photography is a shallow step up (though even that’s eroding these days). In the fledgling days of the scientific method, the role of philosopher was to serve as a logical/ interpretative bridge between religion – the explanation for things beyond the limited science of the day – and the empirical observables of daily life; they also wore the hats of historian, chronicler and observer. Their hypotheses simplified complex observable phenomena – say, volcanoes – down into bite size, easily-digestible chunks for the general population who had no education or inclination to take things at anything other than face value. They gave us Atlantis!

Through the dark arts of compositing, Photoshop and large production budgets, today’s photographers give us the same; either we produce Atlantis in a quest to sell some mermaid-themed perfume, an adventure ride, or perhaps continue pushing the sensible boundaries of fairytale pre-wedding shoots. What both have in common is that they’re a fabricated interpretation of reality, aimed squarely at the consumer masses. Perhaps there is a subtle difference: whereas the role of the philosophers was to create a palatable explanation because reality would have been too complex, the photographer is biased towards creating an escape from reality that’s by choice rather than necessity.

The same is true even for topics that perhaps shouldn’t be treated quite so lightly – specifically anything to do with documentary, reportage or news. It’s well known that our view of events and the world is clouded by what the media agencies or governments want us to see; there is no such thing as absolute truth because the points of view are always relative. More worrying is that society today is too busy trying to make money or enjoy the next sensation that by and large we have outsourced the interpretation of reality to third parties; we are now merely passive viewers. This takes the form of social media, online portals, news, popular entertainment, print media and magazines…most of which pander to sensationalism to gain higher exposure (hell, even photography ‘reviewers’ and websites are guilty of this), and all of which rely on the images of photographers or videographers to illustrate the point. There’s an old and very accurate adage here: if enough people believe something, then it might as well be true.

To be continued.


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  1. liramusic says:

    Hi Ming,
    I read with keen interest here. I wish I had time to read all the comments. I’ll offer a comment but maybe I missed this and maybe it was covered with the dozens (hundreds?) of comments. Let me say first that, hands down with nothing even close, your blog is the coolest photography blog in the world. That is how it seems to me. It ranges out from only quasi scientific gear reviews to what is really going on in the heart of anyone holding a camera. A person could even take the data cards out and leave them on the desk at home. What does it mean to even carry an object such as a camera… Ok, my comment was that there is also a plaintiff if voice in photography, an activist side. You and mentioned these hats: “…the empirical observables of daily life; they also wore the hats of historian, chronicler and observer.” My comment is just how a photographer also can be silently crying out about something. I’ll give an example– or the ultimate example is war photography– I took a photo once of a flower once. Well, who hasn’t.
    It was a Sunday evening (Monday morning a few hours away). The flower was very alone and growing in front of the blade of a bulldozer. Behind the single flower was an old, beautiful brick building and it was east to see what was about to happen. I was on my knees contemplating this. A week later I came by that one road and the building was gone. Well, you get the idea. I felt angry and our society. My suggestion is even though a picture should be wondrous technically, that photography without any emotion and metaphor is shallow. To me the flower represented the dreams and hopes of an architect now in the grave, helpless in the face of that bulldozer. And by extension it represented all hopes and dreams of powerless people in the face of economic progress.
    Another time I came upon the same kind of scene. Again an old structure loomed over me; it was a Sunday; and there was this graffiti : Here is what it said. A week later the building was gone.
    People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
    Love them anyway.
    If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
    Do good anyway.
    If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
    Succeed anyway.
    The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
    Do good anyway.
    Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
    Be honest and frank anyway.
    The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
    Think big anyway.
    People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
    Fight for a few underdogs anyway.
    What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
    Build anyway.
    People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
    Help people anyway.
    Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
    Give the world the best you have anyway.

  2. Reblogged this on Labone Express.

  3. Tom Liles says:

    I think you and I have broken wordpress’s nesting graphics: I can’t follow the lines anymore 😮


    Time to do the kitchen => I’m off!

  4. Tom Liles says:


    This was a reply to your earlier comment, but I’ve just posted it in a fresh comment box. You might see it, you might not.

    Great comments again. I love this. Yourself, Thomas, Kristian, Roger, me, Jeff C, Gordon, Ming, and everyone I forgot—I’m not going to go back and check all the names, just type this as it comes to me and have done with it! Bravo to us! To the people like Mike who question why bother? [fairly] I say Yes. Yes, we are doing the equivalent of Sisyphus. So what? So what, so what, so what? I’d rather be swing-and-miss type than a don’t-swing-because-I-may-not-hit type. The swing [for us] holds all the value and meaning; not the hit, not the miss. I’m sure the same holds for the onlookers. I think we’ve had a few hits here. Christ, anecdotes about the Amish? Love it. People pay money to get a sliver of what we’re laying on with a ladle here for free. Montparnasse of the 30s doesn’t have anything on us. Bring on Hemmingway, rack up Cocteau, line up Dali, Pound and Maddox Ford; we’re on a level. I’ve enjoyed this, and though I think we all know it’s the dying embers, so what –> here I go with another comment, I’m just going to budge right in and say something…
    [even though you were talking to Ming!]

    You’re obviously aware of and comfortable with scientific terms and knowledge, Larry. We know what you think about perfection — and I’m RIGHT THERE with you — but for the sakes of people reading, if there are any… and it doesn’t have to be now, there may be people reading this months and months and from now, you never know… can I indulge a little semantic perfectionism [nitpicking] when it comes to temps.
    I’ve heard of ideal gases [and “used” them a lot! They’re just a concept to make calculations doable] but I admit I’m at a loss then it comes to ideal temperatures. Not quite sure what you meant there. I haven’t googled. Prefer you to an algorithm.
    The temperature scale we’re lumped with [Centigrade or Fahrenheit] is actually conceptually unhelpful when looked at from the perspective of Thermodynamics [and temperature is a measure of energy, so the thermo perspective is the appropriate, the only, one]. 1/T — the inverse — of temperature is actually a WAY better guide and model of what temperature is really about. I could get into it here but I’d end up writing an essay again—-I’ll leave it mysterious and just say: if you were curious [this is if you didn’t already know!], look into the work and formulations of Boltzmann. There will be simple explanations of his contribution all over the internet, no doubt. e^(E/kT) => it’s all in there!
    Boltzmann’s work is over a century old [there or thereabouts]. It’s amazing to me that men in morning coats and massive beards, men closer to Victorian culture than modern, were the ones who came up with or laid the foundations for all this genuinely radical stuff. Though all they wanted to do was build better steam engines. As you probably know. These were men who resented guesswork and wanted to know and formalize the meaning of it all; no more messing about. Practical men. Serious men. Giants! Men these days seem more bothered about Daniel & Bob man-bags or which box-set they want to buy themselves next. No, sorry, enough with the low hanging misanthropy—I know I’m no better! [I have five cameras and am itching for a sixth for Pete’s sake!]
    The other temperature you perhaps forgot to mention was the Triple Point: where all three phases of material exist coincidentally. In connection with the key to life on Earth: water [which has an interesting triple point, by the way—also used as the reference point for the absolute temperature scale, the Kelvin scale] speaking about water you said, colder only solid and hotter only gas… Hmm… for a loose rhetorical reading, no problem. But think about making yourself a cup of tea at the peak of a mountain—what temperature is the water going to boil at? How does this fit into the “hotter,” “colder” model for describing the phases of water? It doesn’t fit so well does it—water boils [liquid-vapor phase change] at a different temperature for us depending how far up or down you are. What’s changing when you go up and down?
    [African runners have won more than a few gold medals on the back of this!]

    It follows, if I had a sealed canister of water, kept at room temperature and pressure inside the canister, and I flew it up out into space [“up out into”! don’t you just LOVE our language]; I’ve got it there in space now, and I open the canister, what would happen?… Dead space is as near as dammit absolute zero; and is practically a vacuum [I dispute this, but anyway..]. Would the water:

    a) Evaporate?
    b) Freeze solid?

    Would we get a puff! and a vaporized volume of water? Or a canister shaped block of ice? I’ll let you find out by yourself [if you’re inclined to and didn’t already know].

    This, hopefully, puts into perspective the “hotter,” “colder” stuff.

    I write “pool balls” instead of just “balls” because “balls off the cushion” just didn’t sit right with me. I am a simple man, I know 🙂 Excellent riff on the multiplication of error/uncertainty there. But I admit these treatments always confuse me… statistics and electronic circuits just defeat me. I CAN NOT, ever, for the love of God, get my head around them. I think I have a piece of brain missing [again, our language eh! I have a -something- missing! Have it, but it’s not there! Beautiful]. Anyway, this stuff about the collision of mechanics [balls, pools cues] and chance [perturbation, measurement] always does me in. I can’t understand the statistics…

    On an “instant to instant” view, the uncertainty, error, etc—whatever stochastic property it is, is a within reach calculable number to my mind. On a “one shot,” instant to instant treatment, this is. What has gone before is only relevant for giving the starting conditions—what will come after is yet to be actualized (calculated). Once that is actualized, we have “a fresh slate” as it were, a set of starting conditions and the calc begins again [this is from a linear “in time” viewpoint, the only one we’re equipped to appreciate]. That’s it. Moment to moment probability.

    The alternative: following an “error grows exponentially with evolution of the system” view, means, to my mind, what is happening right now shouldn’t be happening—it’s should just be a scramble. We’re talking 10^million style, grandiose, beyond reach complexity. The problem with this view, I think, is it stays static at the “start” and tries to map out the evolving chance from that static vantage point—of course the uncertainty/error grows exponentially! And VERY soon is completely absurd. I think this “start” concept gives the game away. Anyone who’s thought about it rejects the idea of a “start” to the universe, since time didn’t (doesn’t) exist outside of the universe [yes, you can even say “outside of our minds,”; though I mean that a little differently to everyone else] there is no “start” to the universe. Say what you want about the scribes, the apostles, the Holy Ghost, that penned the Bible, but “And then there was light” was seminal. It was the “first” event, but they wrote “and then.” Hits the spot for me. Anyway. Stephen Hawking treated it quite nicely in the Brief History… And he did a nice job with “imaginary time,” too. Not make-believe time, but a variant of the time dimension formulated with the square root of minus one: the imaginary number “i” [or “j” depending where you went to school]. Imaginary numbers have quite real uses: in engineering we mostly put “i” into hyperbolic trigonometric functions — cosh, sinh, etc — and when you do you get a real integer result. Bingo! Who needs pretend magic when we’ve got this instead? Alas! Yes, so. A cyclical approach is the only way—when the clock resets, we have a fresh sheet. I shouldn’t have, but this “resetting” point is why I let Thomas’s one about “23+3=2” go. It makes no sense, but I thought it should have been apparent. The logic in his expression doesn’t line up with the logic in his system: linear vs cyclic, i.e., the counting numbers from 0 to infinity, and their arithmetic rules; does “infinity” work for a cyclic system? So do the counting numbers? So does arithmetic? etc., etc. Thomas wants 23 to mean 23:00 on a clock and “23” the number at the same time, in order to make his point. But that’s logically corrupt. You can’t write a phrase like “23+3” if the system is cyclic and ends at “24.” The expression is absurd, breaks its own rules, from the get-go. Unless you want to count the cycles themselves, then you can have “23+3.” And it equals “one cycle plus two.” Though we all notice we’ve slipped back into linearity and introduced an absolute time stamp [a zero]. But I digress. No, when it comes to reality and the universe, the cosmos, I think a cyclical view is the only sensible one [that can be sensibly argued for with the best tools and knowledge we have]. I doubt it’s coincidental that, save for the Jews, the ancients — well in tune with their unconscious, the mystical and spiritual as well as the real world [that would kill them quicker than ours would us] — mostly went in for a cyclical view too. Anyway, cyclical = on the face of it how the universe it set up to be. So this should scale to everything, be isomorphic to everything—since it is everything to start with [no pun intended!]. This is why the “instant to instant” and “no multiplying out of chance” seems self-evident to me. If I flip a coin two times, to my brain, and this is my brain we’re talking about so give me some latitude!, to my brain the first flip HAS NO STATISTICAL BEARING ON THE SECOND. It sets the starting conditions, yes, I can see that, and that’s all I can see.

    This is a really tough subject for me though, you can tell by how waffly I’m being. I can’t get a decent conceptual grip on it and forcefully make my mind up—can’t get a “this is how it is!” etc.
    [to eventually disagree with and move onto its opposite; then eventually get a synthesis!]

    Is like music to my ears! I’ve held this view in high esteem for a long time. And I think it is a simple pointer to the emergence of the universe itself. Now I know you’re rolling your eyes at that one! But so what—I have another good ten minutes before my wife wants the computer, so hear me out…

    The physical laws, well what we call laws, are constraints on the system. The system is all and everything that is real—call it the universe. Gravity, terminal velocities, Quantum Electrodynamics, packing coefficients, the permittivity of free space, whatever, the entire body of physical knowledge [i.e., scientific knowledge because chemistry is really applied physics, and biology is applied chemistry, etc., etc] all of our science just points to the constraints of the system. Nothing being able to travel faster than light, for instance [which technically isn’t true as statistically it has to happen, just like sub absolute zero temperatures. About the light, I’m not just saying that, me and Richard Feynman are saying that, or Richard Feynman and me, whichever sounds softer. Doesn’t matter. And don’t say “and I…” I refuse to talk in a telephone voice on here. Anyway..]
    Now, to get to something like what laymen [e.g., me] call “the start of the universe” all we do is dismantle what we’ve got right here and now, piece by piece. Take the time dimension away, I’m now no longer constrained by the flow of time [entropy], I can be in my childhood and twilight years, at the birth of Jesus and the death of the sun all in one. Take away spatial constraints, I can be anywhere all at once now: here and Proxima Centauri, there is no such thing as “distance” between them…
    I’ve done it in broad imprecise strokes, you could do the thought experiment just taking gravity away, see what happens, do another constraint, and etc. But whenever and whatever you do, you see that you’re removing a constraint and what is possible becomes much more. You’ll also notice it’s hard to verbalize because our language is so rooted in the constraints—I can’t say “be in my childhood and twilight years at the same time because I’m talking on a premise of having removed time. It’d be absurd. I have to say something, but our language doesn’t have the tools. That is an aside though. You take away constraints, more becomes possible.

    When all the constraints are gone?

    Anything is possible.

    OK 😀

    Done it!

    Ex Nihilo creation was a philosophical problem for many. I’m actually confused by this when there’s so much ex nihilo creation about us, if you just look. A musician conjures a melody from thin air. Happens all the time. It’s right there in front us. There was nothing. Then there was something. But with regards to the universe, ex nihilo, something from nothing, is surplus to my requirements.

    Not 10 seconds ago, we arrived at “anything is possible” as a “start point” for the universe. So, getting something from a background of unlimited unrestrained possibility—is that so strange?????

    Not “something from nothing” —>

    Something from Anything


    P/S I have now completely left all photography talk behind. I apologize for leaving the plantation!

    • That’s one magnum opus of a comment to finish – go out with a bang, eh? 😉

      Actually, for me it’s about learning how to swing then putting that into practice by consistently knocking one out of the park. And then figuring out how to do it even faster and more consistently once I’ve gotten that down. Masochism? Yes. Ne plus ultra? Perhaps. I suppose it’s why we photographers itch for larger and larger formats…

      What we really need is one of those old fashioned gentlemen’s clubs with civilized drinks, cigars, tastefully quiet music, and those enormous comfortable armchairs (not the noisy sort with lap dancing) – I suppose the best I can do is attempt to provide a virtual version of that. If I have to wear a morning coat and beard, it’s a small price to pay. Especially seeing as it’s virtual.

      I believe your water would boil due to zero pressure, but I think it would also depend on whether it was in the sun or shaded as we still have radiative thermal conductivity to think about – the temperature of the canister matters. It’s been a while since I last looked at thermodynamics though, so I might be wrong.

      Pool balls:
      Actually, the results of a two-body collision are quite easily calculated. Simultaneous impact of multiple bodies are not, and if you extrapolate even more collisions with ever increasing uncertainty – it’s essentially guesswork. Interestingly though, the uncertainty – imprecision in sphericality of the balls, varying roughness of the cushion, etc. means the unexpected can and does happen – very quantum-mechanical, since this is precisely what the probability functions of a particle provide for.

      A good deal of these are mental and self-imposed, really. The one thing I took away from a particularly challenging job with insane hours/ deadlines was that if you really want to do something, you can – even if you have to teach yourself from fundamentals beforehand. It’s doable. The restrictions are ourselves. My early photographic work made people’s eyes – sometimes including my own – bleed, believe it or not. But it’s something I wanted to do, and here I am today.

      There we go, squarely corralled back on topic. And don’t worry about the swansong, there’s always the next post/ thread – and it’s not as though I’m going to stop writing about the intellectual side of photography anytime soon! 🙂

      • Tom Liles says:

        Ooh, I forgot that I didn’t respond on the water:

        My instinct was that it’d vaporize. I think pressure effects would dominate. And I remember an astronaut once saying that your blood would boil if you were exposed to open space [and by boil he of course meant the vapor pressure would be so great, the ambient pressure so low, your blood would just vaporize instantly].

        But a quick google for the phase diagram of water:

        This one

        OK, solid!?

        This one too

        They don’t agree. Ha! 🙂 The second one shows a sublimation curve [solid phase transition to vapor, no intermediate liquid state] down toward zero pressure and absolute zero temp, so it depends which side of the curve you’d be on. Direct cosmic radiation, of the ionizing type, wouldn’t do much for the temperature of the water: the lethal radiation dose for humans — this is to kill you VERY quickly, not months and months or years and years later — over egging it is about one Sievert, 1 Sv [a “Guy,” 1 Gy, for the uncorrected measure], would only change the temperature of a kilo of water by a fraction of a degree. Out in open space you get much much than 1~10Gy! But still, you get my drift. So cosmic radiation in that band wouldn’t transmit much kinetic energy — temperature — to the water. Though the sun’s emissions in the lower end of the EM spectrum would…

        I think the composition of comets is informative—we find elements frozen solid there, that when exposed to direct sun rays instantly vaporize [sublimate]. So perhaps opening the canister on the dark side of the moon, as opposed the bright side would give a different result.

        I wish I remembered all this a bit better 😦

        • Tom Liles says:

          Sorry, first link was this.

        • Tom Liles says:

          OK I’m being really sloppy now—this is what happens when you eat and type at the same time! The second phase diagram is marked in Fahrenheit: zero is not, of course, absolute zero.

          Confused myself with Rankines!

          So going from the first phase diagram—the answer is: FREEZES TO ICE

        • Better question: does it matter?

  5. Ming, I agree the second and third movies of the trilogy lost a bit, perhaps too hollywood. Or maybe it was the bomb shell of an idea in the first movie that simply over shadowed anything else presented in the following movies.

    Is there anything inherently wrong with preferring to be in the matrix?

    The answer would seem simple once you have become aware of the Matrix. The obvious choice is to fight it. To resist it. Try to free others from it. But I don’t think it is quite that simple, nothing ever really is. I think the answer is relative to the individual and to their position in life. Is money the means by which the effects of the Matrix are either amplified of muted. Personally coming from a position of limited cash flow it is easy to become fixated and angered by the hypocrisy and injustices of the world. It is also easy when you have no wealth to declare that “Money won’t make you happy!” What would my perspective be if I had $10 million in the bank? The idealist in me likes to pretend like it wouldn’t affect me. My suspicions are that as an individuals wealth increases, the level of tolerance or acceptance of the Matrix increases (in most people, not all). I think people fight and resist less when they are comfortable and feel safe (When a man has nothing, he has nothing to lose.I wish I could take credit for this quote, but I cannot.) Now for those from the middle class to the lower classes I think it is a much more difficult position. If they are unaware of the system in place I am starting to believe that they are better off. Blissfully unaware may simply be the easier path for those with no knowledge within in the Matrix. For those awoken individuals in the middle to lower classes the answers become much less clear. In the past you have talked about sufficiency in relation to photography. What of sufficiency in terms of what we as individuals need to survive and live contently? If we reject the consumerism and the debt associated with it, do we not minimize the effects of our version of the Matrix. This is much easier said than done, but with effort I think some individuals are capable of reprograming themselves. Unlike Hollywood’s version we have no Neo and story book endings are few and far between. As much as we want to believe we stand up to the monster, fight, and win, history is littered with failed attempts. There is another point that I’m having a hard time articulating…… It involves explaining my view of our version of the Matrix or social structure if you will. Here’s the best I can do. I see a massive entity, an organic structure, that is a force of nature with a life of its own. Our collective consciousness is this massive organic entity that is not unlike a tsunami. Yes small groups have pushed, channeled and redirected, but due to the scope and size it has become unstoppable. If you are standing on that beach and the shoreline recedes as the tsunami approaches. Nothing will change its coarse. Nothing will stop it. So it is true with our collective consciousness. There is just to much mass to simple stand up and say stop! All we can do is plugin and become part of it, or we separate and simple observe. Before I started this discussion I would have strongly argued for resisting, but now I’m not so sure. Can I plug back in? No, I’m not wired that way. Maybe others are.

    How about a question for you Ming? Give me a second I’ll get there. Years ago as I started down this path that ultimately led me to this line of thinking I initially wanted to tell everyone I knew my new found insight (I’m positive I annoyed the crap out of a fair amount!) I felt I needed to awaken everyone. Show them the Matrix. And steal their blissful ignorance. Who am I that I should have that right? Some, no matter what you say or show won’t budge. But what of those that listen and learn, but want to go back? I have opened a door they cannot close and do not want open. So here’s my question. I am a father of 2. A 1 year old and a 3 year old. As they grow and become more aware do I show them the rabbit hole, or do I let them plug in? Red or Blue?

    • The more you have, the harder it is for you to get used to the idea of going without. Same goes for the matrix: if you started in, the outside only yields any promise if you can’t live with the idea of being controlled. If you suddenly have too much freedom and no structure, the necessity of having to consciously make every decision for yourself might get tiring. Or, you could be aware and subsequently still choose to stay in because its almost a cop-out of sorts: ‘it isn’t my fault because I’m not in control’.

      As for your question: let them decide. If they show signs of wanting out, then be open to educating them. If not, then perhaps leave them in. Ultimately, it isn’t your decision to make, you can only give them open information and let them decide for themselves.

      All that said, I don’t have children, so perhaps I’m not the right person to answer that question…

      • I agree. Had I not had the opportunity to air all this out in a setting such as this I may not have have come to that conclusion just yet. As a parent I think all you can do is teach them to think for themselves and see how the rest plays out. Hey just be glad I didn’t ask you to babysit!! They would have ruined you! Your wife would never have forgiven me for scaring you away from wanting kids!!

        Luke to Yoda “I’m not afraid.”

        Yoda “You will be.”

    • Tom Liles says:

      Awesome comment Jeff.

      Uninvited, I know, but I’m dying to chip in on some stuff in there. My wife wants the computer now though so I’ll have to bite my tongue—maybe I’ll watch THE MATRIX in the meantime and that thing with the birds will come to me. It was worth it, Ming & Jeff, I promise!

      P/S Have a 3yr old and a 1yr old myself—with another due in July! Madness 🙂

      • Thanks Tom! Uninvited? Nothing could be further from the truth! Can’t wait to hear what you have to offer on the subject! Congratulations on the new addition to the family! You are a braver man then I. Two was my limit. I told my wife if she wanted a third she was gonna need another husband! For financial reasons I have been the one staying home taking care of the babies. This dialog that we having been enjoying these last few days has been an awesome escape. My conversations with the children revolve around dirty diapers and “Hey don’t climb on that!” I said it before and I’ll say it again. Thanks Ming and Tom, and everyone else who’s been commenting. Very thought provoking stuff. I’m better for it.

        • Makes many of us: sometimes we need variety in our lives to keep things interesting. As much as I love my friends and family here, it’s tough to get such a wide, semi-random spread of expertise and viewpoints that keeps philosophical discussion interesting, lively and unpredictable. Thank YOU all. 🙂

        • Tom Liles says:


          Work and family has been super tough the last week… So I’m pulling out the stops and tapping as fast and best I can from the iPhone on my train home with some random salaryman over my shoulder trying to read this. This is the only chance I’ll get so I’m just going to go for it! Ready Jeff? Ready salaryman? I’ll get what I wanted to say the most out of the way first; anything after will be a bonus! OK, here I go:

          So, your thoughts and feelings about the tidal wave of collective consciousness: this is a sharp point. You’re in esteemed company. The two men who stand out for me in philosophy are Hegel and Jung—and they both had the same thought, but in different ways.
          Jung was a psychoanalyst, but if you try some of his work — quite easy and above all INTERESTING — and compare it to something Freud wrote, or what modern day psychologists write now, you’ll see that he’s different by type and not degree; though ostensibly that doesn’t seem the case. He is more like a philosopher (or a classic man of letters). Jung was much more a man of the World than Freud, and definitely more so than the snazzy theoreticians who write now. And he was braver. Jung’s greatness and his appeal as a scientist and writer was that he didn’t close off spirituality or mysticism a-priori. Mmm. Spirituality and mysticism: I just made myself sound silly to most people, who have decided in the name of rationality that these things are childish or inadequate — things only tribesmen in Africa believe in, or bohemian dilettantes in Soho pretend to — things to be debunked, categorized, explained or otherwise swept under the carpet. Yet those who support this majority opinion can offer no explanation on the same grounds [of rationalism] as to why such premises are valid and such action is necessary.

          Jung coined the term “collective unconscious” and with it he meant something like a repository of psychological symbols that he called the archetypes. His collective unconscious wasn’t waffly ethereal snake-oil, but not just plainly biological either. I suppose it really is quite close to what Richard Dawkins called “memes” (c.f., “genes”). I’ll leave it up to you: someday if you get a chance, read what Jung himself said, how he described the origins and working of collective unconscious, and decide for yourself… So, [says Jung] we all share in the collective unconscious and we access its content via the symbolic language of archetypes. I shan’t explain them either, here; but a quick “for example”: if you like the films of Christopher Nolan — his Batman pictures, for example — he litters his stories with them. Nolan picked up on “The Joker” character just being a version (an inversion, if you like, as Joker was a baddie) of “Coyote” a American/Mexican Indian deity. Coyote appears in all cultures and Jung generalized him as “Trickster” an early stage of the classic hero cycle: think of all the hero stories you’ve ever seen or read—the hero is born, usually in amazing circumstances; is playful in adolescence (and will pull off amazing feats) — this is the “Trickster” stage — will set off out into the World, initially successful only to meet a crushing defeat; should he be up to it, he will overcome this defeat, change in the process, and win his final victory by virtue of that final metamorphosis. At this last stage in the cycle the hero is the complete hero. All of our stories from Superman to Jesus of Nazareth to Beowulf follow this trope. Jung thought it just must be part of our make up and a pointer to something deeper, fundamental. I think he was right. The struggle of the hero cycle, Jung figured, was really our struggle—the struggle to “individuate.” To become a fully rounded, spiritually complete person. We don’t all make it. Plenty of 40 year old Tricksters about! But seriously, in this age, I’d posit that hardly anyone does, or can, individuate—we’re so divorced from our unconscious and any forum for the spiritual or mystical in our modern lives. Again, these words on their own are enough to make people cringe. Why? It’s the inert victory of consciousness. I’d say this is The Matrix. It’s victory is so complete we rarely even remember what we dreamt, though we unfailingly did, and when we do remember, to talk about it or take them seriously is taboo: “just a dream.” This is the cowardice of modernity.

          So Jung believed in and wrote about a collective unconscious. Some similarities but perhaps not quite… Next is Hegel who was much closer to your sentiments, I think.

          Well, crikey, I’m at my station now, but I can’t end here. So I’m now walking and tapping—like a teenager! Just wait, I’m going to BUMP into someone and then they can go “God you foreigners have THE WORST spatial awareness!” 🙂

          So Hegel…

          Almost verbatim what you said — though a million times more hard to understand (Hegel is HELL ON EARTH to try and read. I gave up and just read translations of the translations, as it were [Hegel wrote in German, but the man himself translated into English is so hard it still may as well be the original German—I read commentaries on him, with excerpts of his words]) — so, let’s get this back on the rails, almost verbatim what you said: Hegel called this SPIRIT.

          I have a whole book dedicated to just what Hegel meant by “Spirit”—and because this book was written by an academic, it concludes with one of those “one the one hand this… one the other that…” passages. Very unsatisfying. But I think what you said and what Hegel thought: the broad strokes are all the same.
          Hegel was a historian, he studied human history very carefully and seriously: and this study is surely what lead him toward the “thesis-antithesis-synthesis” formulation (people always say: he didn’t put it like that! And it’s true, but I think it’s still the best statement, to us, of what he thought). The course of history seemed to follow this pattern every where he looked. A movement; its opposite; then some reconciling of the two, but not just a “halfway” compromise—a whole new thing. “Recognizably new” might be a slick way to put it. Copyright me! Anyway, this new synthesis then becomes the first movement in yet another cycle; etc., etc. This called the Hegelian dialectic…
          One of Hegel’s students was Marx, who also made use of history and dialectic to inform his philosophy and gave us “historical materialism.” Marxism is a cliche plaything of intellectuals now but give him a try someday; he’s pretty good [his academic partner Engels is the more interesting thinker, to me—just pure taste I suppose]. Whereas Marx wrote of religion as an opiate of the masses, and could never have brought himself to even name a concept “spirit”; his teacher Hegel was always open to the Spiritual (not the same as religion, I’ll grant you!). Hegel was taught in a seminary and would’ve become a priest, but his thinking became a bigger part of his life—he went through a few stages of pro and anti Christianity, ending up a nominally Christian thinker, but his ideas wouldn’t be recognized by many Christians (though arguing that they aren’t isn’t such an easy proposition). I think he started out orthodoxly pro, went anti, and ended up pro but decidedly un-orthodox… And does the underlying pattern, there, sound familiar at all, by the way? 🙂

          Anyway, Hegel certainly thought that there was something both in us and out of us — simultaneously being created by us but as individuals we feel apart and powerless before it — a movement of the age, a momentum, a thrusting power which he called SPIRIT.

          Close to what you say.

          Aghh, time’s up. I’m through the door and am now ready to microwave my dinner and eat as quietly as I can so as not to wake the wife and kids! 🙂

          I could rap about this all day with you Jeff, it’s been a pleasure.

          Anytime you need a conversation or to kill time, you’re welcome to have one with me. Or not! Free and easy, either way. Kids are harder than work so even with my hours I think I have more time than you! If the feeling takes you, just drop me a line:


          We don’t have to talk BIG things. And camera talk is also acceptable! 🙂

          P/S And on that topic: I got my first ever speedlight today! A Nissin Di-622. I’m ecstatic!! The slave modes are a mystery, but it can’t be harder than Hegel 😀

          • Hegel is definitely easier than mastering the Dark Arts of the speedlight.

            I’m going to start hacking and messing up individual ideas here, but Jung had something: we all want to be the hero. Society forces us in one direction or the other: to fit in, to not stand out, to not be weird/ different etc; at the same time it praises and lords the successful indivduator. Except, it makes it as difficult as possible to individuate because of, I don’t know, perhaps collective jealousy or something. It’s like I always said: the man who tries 99 times and dies without succeeding is a foolish fool, the man who succeeds on the 100th attempt is a determined genius. Go figure…

            • Tom Liles says:

              Haha. Thanks Ming. I left it too let to get to Jeff, I suppose—all my fault. But last week was a good week for correspondence. Mostly down to your good self 🙂

              So, listen, speedlights—wow, “dark arts” is the right word! I have my lunchtime cordoned off for trying to get to grips with this flash unit as its behavior [and my D7000’s] in “slave” mode is very confusing [in the 15 minutes I played with it after work yesterday!]. I don’t know if you’ve ever used a D7000 with any regularity, Ming, but the built in flash can double as a “commander” unit. I put these terms in inverted commas not because I think they’re novel to you — imagine that! — but because they’re new to me… So, anyway, you can assign the D7000 flash to be commander—-when you select this option (Menu>Custom Setting Menu>”e” bracketing/flash>e3 “flash control for built in flash”>”CMD” commander mode) you come to a screen which asks what you’d like the behavior of the lighting system to be: what you’d like the built-in flash to do, what you’d like “group A,” “group B” to do, and so on. Where it gets confusing is that the passage referring to slave modes (“Sd” and Sf” for “Slave Digital” and “Slave Film” respectively; don’t really get the difference there?) in the Di622 markii user manual, mixes words like “commander” and “master” [I think your commander and your master are two different lights—but what do I know!?] and doesn’t say, unequivocally, whether you’re getting iTTL operation, or not. And the D7000 manual doesn’t make clear whether this “commander” function is just optical, or works on some RF frequency—more on that in a minute… Also confusing, with the Di622 in slave mode, my D7000 (in Aperture Priority) seems to default to the slowest shutter speed as specified in “Flash shutter speed,” e2 of the flash menu [as opposed to “Flash sync speed,” e1, which is presumably the max]; and it went to that speed at most reasonable aperture values. This doesn’t seem much like iTTL behavior to me (though the in-camera meter was showing me WAY underexposed, I was indoors, so maybe I really was just underexposing and should have upped the ISO, or opened up the lens? Mystery. Test more today)… So I set the built in flash to “–,” i.e., “no flash please!” as I wanted to get lighting just from my speedlight (set to “TTL”), but the built-in flash was firing: I guess this is optical “pre-flash” signaling to the slave [the Di622], but where it gets confusing is that the finished shots definitely have some front illumination, i.e., from the D7000 built-in flash. I tried a few random exposure variations, but more or less came out with the same results each time [which kind of suggests that some iTTL was going on; but as I say, the shutter speed was mostly stuck on whatever I set the min to be in the D7000 settings]. I then tried changing the behavior for “group A” in the D7000 menu—this should be me changing the slave’s, the Di622’s, behavior, but whatever I set it to — and whatever I changed the parameter to, e.g., ramping up and down flash power between 1/32 and 1, with Group A set to “M” — I got more or less the same picture: and still front illumination from the D7000 built-in flash…

              The di622 also has a “wireless” mode, presumably for radio triggers. Out of curiosity I tried it—the Di622 fired! But the D7000 built-in also went off? RF but optical at the same time? Very confusing.

              Basically I got what I was after — di622 as lone, main light — with the D7000 built-in flash down, an AS-15 in the hot shoe and a PC sync cord, and the Di622 set to manual. It can’t do iTTL through a PC sync; though it does support iTTL when in the hot shoe—-what remains to be seen is what happens in slave and “wireless” modes? The di622 user manual makes it sound like you get iTTL operation there, but as said above, confused whether that’s the case. Also confused whether I can do the opposite, go fully manual in slave mode? The draw of slave modes with the D7000 built-in flash up and in “CMD” mode is that it’s wireless—no buggering about and easier to play.

              I got myself a PC sync cord (not the super expensive Nikon one!) because that’s what The Strobist said you should do. It seemed like good advice. But trying to find some info on the di622 and D7000 behavior this morning on google, it seems like the world has moved on = everyone, even rank beginners, uses RF triggers!

              But info is very thin on the ground, often contradictory…

              “Dark arts” is the right word!!!

              Is this intentional [to keep the goodies secret] or just no-one really knows as much they purport to!?
              [which in the Information Age is hard to believe]

              I’m really enjoying the D7000 since buying a second hand unit. But have come to terms with the fact that the couple of old Ai lenses I bought were a mistake [or they are on this body; they were actually quite nice on the D60]. I’ll live with them, can’t afford to do otherwise; but if I had my time over again, and considering what focal lengths I know that I like and use, now, here’s what I’d have done:

              1) Buy a D600 body
              2) Buy the 28G(1.8)
              3) Buy the 85G(1.8)
              4) Think about whether to get a 35 or 50mm (35mm has become my favorite focal length believe it or not!!)

              => mission complete

              I can’t afford to do any of that in my wildest dreams, but it’s tough liking wide angles but being on DX. There’s just no quality option [compared to what’d be more comfortably possible on FX]. I was scared by the FULL FRAME status of the D700 and D600 and it made FX cameras seem bigger to me than they really are. Well, the D700 is a big and heavy camera; but the D600? I was in the camera store, getting my di622 yesterday, waiting for a clerk to fetch the nikon compatible unit and some batteries, I went to have a play: picked up a D600…

              WAIT! WHAT?… this is really no bigger than my D7000, doesn’t feel heavier, hmm, all the buttons are more or less where I know them from the D7000… oh man!

              The irony is that I wouldn’t appreciate this if I’d never made the leap from my wife’s D60 to my own D7000. But I do appreciate it, now. So, I think I need to lay out a long term savings plan to get myself on the FX train. By the time I’ve scraped enough together, used D600s will be better than they are now [about 100-200 USD less than retail price; I’m looking for more like 400-500 less]. It’s NOT about resolution—the 12MP of the D700 would suit my needs fine [though down-ressing on purpose when more modern sensor architecture and resolution is on offer is a strange choice]. It’s about lenses doing what they say on barrel.

              Back to the old Ai of mine [I have a 1977 Ai 50mm f/2, not the usual 1.4 Ai-S choice!, and a 24mm f/2.8 Ai-S]. They were relatively inexpensive, 80 USD and 140 USD respectively. So “good” mistakes. I do love the 50mm f/2 just as an object [lens hood built into the design! Classy]; and the angle of view of the 24mm [on DX] has become my favorite. They both taught me about blocky images and trouble taking pics at noon in the tropics; the romance of manual focus and manual aperture rings [I did already know about the beauty of aperture rings as my first camera was a panasonic DMC-L1] and the nightmare of manual focus [on a digital camera not designed for it]. You can only trust that green dot so far [about a 70-30 hit rate in my experience; the D7000 finder actually seems to have some kind of micro-prisms or something because there is a slight shimmer when focusing. So I use that and the green dot. And my sixth sense!]… The infuriating thing is, same green dot in the AF case and you’ve got sharp focus! Everytime! Something gives here. Anyway. The triumph of algorithms and chipsets I suppose. I can believe they are better than the human eye; except they can’t know what they are focusing on and whether that was what was intended! It’s been a good learning exercise though—-in some situations, MF is great; but mostly you get cleaner pixels and better pictures with AF. Just the way they’ve made it for us. 35mm 1.8 AF-S constantly attached to the D7000 now => my pictures aren’t artistically better, but are way cleaner at pixel level, and have less CA, etc., on them [though the 35G isn’t ED and definitely shows it at the edges].

              For all the “boring” stuff leveled at modern Nikon bodies and lenses—you can’t argue with how quick and smart they are. I enjoy my other bizarro cameras — the Sigmas, the Epson R-D1s — but the Nikon reigns supreme…

              For this week, anyway.

              Shoulda gone for the full frame! Gah! 🙂

              • Tom Liles says:

                that just ended up being a letter. Sorry Ming! Will go the private route next time 🙂

              • This is making it far, far too complicated. I suggest starting off with:
                1. Set your D7000 to manual flash power. 1/128 is sufficient. Use manual exposure too so you can balance ambient and flash better.
                2. Set your flash to wireless slave and manual power – it’s an optical trigger, not RF. I don’t use RF triggers; I use either the built-in on my D800 as the commander, or if I need more groups or more range, I have an SU800 dedicated unit.
                3. Position flash as desired.
                4. Shoot, adjust power as required (you’ll get a feel for this eventually).

                Full frame – I don’t like the way the D600 feels. It seems ‘hollow’ compared to the D700/D800 – but you’d know this, since you’ve read my reviews of all three. I own one as a backup body to the D800E, but I’ve only used it a small handful of times.

                Focusing screens have that shimmer because they’re cut from bundles of optical fibers (I believe) at an angle – so there is some sort of prismatic effect as the projected image changes. The shimmer is actually how I tell when things are in focus. The reason you can’t focus properly is because mirror alignment is probably off; AF doesn’t use the main mirror. I’ve not had one single digital camera where mirror alignment has been perfect; I have to adjust the zero position myself. If it’s off, you’ll get false focus confirmation. My F2 Titan from 1979 is perfect, and it’s never been serviced; the standard focusing screen has a lot more ‘snap’ too – go figure.

                As for bizarro – I plan to use a CFV-39 digital back on the 903 SWC that’s now on its way to me from Japan…

                • Tom Liles says:

                  As always Ming: THANK YOU. I hope the World is watching, diamonds being dropped for free here [your version of charity, we all should know—we read the hobbies thread!].

                  In all seriousness though, yes I’ve had my lunchtime play with the di622 and was a bit hasty with my thoughts after yesterday. I also understand a bit more about the D7000’s “CMD” behavior now.

                  1) Nikon says in the user manual that setting “–” for the built in flash behavior in CMD mode means the D7000 doesn’t emit any flash. Just as this guy, I found that that’s a lie, but only a small one; and only one that matters when you’re right close in [as I was when I was playing yesterday].

                  2) The CMD mode is an IR system. This is all that’s necessary to trigger slaves—though the D7000 also sends a blink of light with the IR beam. As mentioned in the link above, you could buy an optional extra to block the part of the signal that’s in the visible spectrum; that gadget looks silky and paying for it even sillier. Easier solution: just do it your way, Ming; or PC sync cords.

                  3) The qualitative difference between the di622’s “Sd” and “Sf” are still lost on me; but it’s almost besides the point as in “wireless” mode with the D7000 as CMD, I can wireless trigger fully manual AND TTL behavior, though the metering on the TTL option is pretty hit and miss—like more miss than hit. I’m being philosophical about that and telling myself that a third-party flash was never going to give seamless TTL performance anyway, especially when used remotely—and, first thing’s first, who says iTTL is flawless in the first place? Only I know what lighting the scene in front of me needs! Again, best solution: do it your way, Ming.

                  All in all, DO IT YOUR WAY, MING has been the takeaway from lunchtime today 🙂

                  Shoot, adjust power as required (you’ll get a feel for this eventually)

                  Like almost everything I’ve experienced with learning photos, so far: this is the golden rule. There is no quick way, shortcut, abridged version, if quality is what you’re after [I am]. I have to fail 99 times to succeed the once [like a true hero! 🙂 ] in the beginning. Then as you say, it’s all about taking the batting average from 0.01 to 1—-or as close as is humanly possible.

                  Oh, without a doubt, Ming—I’ve read your D600 review tons! You didn’t really have a single “this is the review” piece on the D800/D800E, instead you had about 10! So anything with D and 800 in the title, read them plenty 🙂 But you know, I’d never looked at your longterm D700 piece: guess what I’ll be doing on my tea break at 17:00 today!
                  [The D800 is just so stratospherically out of my ball park though; I’m not talking money, though that’s true too. No, it’s like you said in the review Ming, if you have to ask the question—you don’t need this camera! I’d wager that even most pros don’t need it.]

                  Very interesting about the finder windows, shimmering and mirror alignment!

                  At first I thought my eyes were going off when I saw the shimmering—definitely not something I’d noticed on the D60. I’d switched out the finder screen in the D60 for a katzeye focusing screen [did have microprisms and they were useful!], which was quite a good addition, but not something worth doing when we’re onto finders as big as the D7000’s. Well, I say “as big as…” and Ming you know this better than me since you own an F2, but if you pick up an old film DSLR—WOW. They’re like CINEMA SCREENS! What on earth happened? Will they ever do that again? WHY NOT??

                  When I’m confident enough for film; I’d LOVE an old film DSLR—get an F-mount, and I already have two great lenses 🙂

                  WOOWWW! Ming, I just looked up what a 903 SWC was, and I remember you telling me about the CFV-39 digital back—serious, serious kit. We were talking CCDs the other day and you mentioned the tight envelope for success with this digital back… and I suppose this brings it back to the Golden Rule [shoot…get a feel]. I can only imagine how many years, how many frames, how many mess-ups you have to get through to reach the heights you’re getting to now. A related snippet: I’m quite interested to see where the “Hasselblad and Squares” phase takes you. I bet we all are. But it’s interesting to hear about your recent boom with the medF, because I’ve met tons of fashion photographers in my time [and unfortunately all before I was interested in photos myself! Agh!] and they all shot these medium format cameras—but in studios. Mamiya was the brand I remember most of them went for. I recall one guy with a “Bronica” for informal, personal shots. I think that’s Tamron now, isn’t it? I will remember this camera brand forever, because the camera itself looked NICE [and remember this’s before I knew anything] and I asked the guy what it was and how it worked—so he handed it over to me, and I dropped it! GULP. Very scary 10 seconds after that. Anyway, it’s quite interesting to me that you’re NOWHERE NEAR A STUDIO with your Hasselblad. In fact about as far from controlled lighting and cooperative models as it gets! This can’t be trivial. I don’t want to get too over-the-top; but what you’re up to reminds me of a character in an Ang Lee film called CROUCHING TIGER HIDDEN DRAGON. You know it. I love love love the films of Ang Lee, by the by. I haven’t seen LIFE OF PI yet but can’t wait. What the guy did with THE HULK was amazing and I want to shout SHAME ON HOLLYWOOD for what they did to him over that, especially needlessly remaking the same story so soon after [likewise what they did to Sam Raimi]. Tinsel town execs—I’ve had the displeasure of meeting a couple in my career in advertising and they SUCK. How is it possible that people who hate films so much get to work at the top of the industry? Go figure. Anyway, where was I? Yes, CROUCHING TIGER.., in the story the philosopher-swordsman Li Mu Bai comes full circle, reaches a level of mastery so high, he doesn’t need the sword anymore. But the sword was instrumental to this level of thought—a bridge to it. Reminds me, yet again, of the T.S. Eliot quote that Gordon dropped at the beginning of this conversation…

                  Just to get all philosophical again!

                  • [Looks up] nope, nothing falling from the sky. But the world most certainly is watching, this IS the internet after all.

                    1, 2) True; that gadget is the SG-3IR panel. I know because I have one and use it. It’s impossible for there to be NO flash as the camera needs to emit something to measure the return and determine how much power the main flashes require for correct exposure. There’s the whole thing of preflash, but that’s been cut to reduce response time. Older iTTL cameras had a very slow preflash lag that could be problematic at times. Instead, we need to use the little IR panel now. Or suffer the SU-800’s insatiable appetite for CR123A batteries.
                    3) Sorry, you’re on your own here – I use half a dozen SB-900s.

                    All in all, DO IT YOUR WAY, MING has been the takeaway from lunchtime today
                    I could say ‘I told you so’, but I’m going to be magnanimous. For what it’s worth though, my keeper rate for digital is of the order of 2% anyway. Film is much higher – 80% or so – I’m not sure why that is, actually.

                    No, no review – the midterm report on the D800E and initial impressions of the D800 are the two main articles. The long term D700 piece is here.

                    Focusing screens:
                    The older ones were definitely better. In my mind, the zenith of focusing screens is the split prism + microprism screen for the F6; it has all of the new technology PLUS those focusing aids. It doesn’t get any better. I’d cut one to fit my D800E as I did for the D700…but the D800E has the largest focusing screen ever installed in a Nikon, and the F6’s one is simply too small. That reminds me though, I have a spare one I shall put into my F6 now to replace the standard screen.

                    Manual cameras:
                    As for cinema screens – once you’ve shot a Hasselblad V with the mirror prism, even the F6 is like trying to watch a movie on your iPhone. In any case – you live in Japan; old cameras that aren’t in pristine condition are dirt cheap; best place on earth to find them. I recommend a meterless F2; it’ll really build your awareness of light. Avoid the F, the baseplate is fiddly and the shutter release isn’t ergonomic. The F3 onwards are too electronic.

                    The 903 is the epitome of the Hasselblad superwides – it’s the most recent camera that still has the lead-arsenic-radioactive-whatever glass elements (the later 905 dropped this) and the legendarily perfect 38 Zeiss Biogon lens on the front. I admit, I’m very, very excited about this one; I’ve been extremely fortunate to get the opportunity to own and shoot with all of these legendary cameras I’d read about and drooled over in my earlier photographic days – the F2 Titan, 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor, F6, Leicas, and finally – the 903 SWC, which is close to being the end of the road for classic (but still useable) cameras. I’m excited but a little bit intimidated/ scared at the same time. As for the number of frames…I think I’m somewhere in the half-million region in total. For the main cameras only: I clocked 20k on my first digital, the D70; 200k+ on my D2H; a couple of thousand on the first F2; another 100k on a pair of D200s; 50k on my D3; 40k on each of my two M8s; 20k on the M9-P; 70k on my first D700, 10k on the spare; 10k on my Pen Mini; going on 50k with the OM-D, and another 40k or so on my D800E. The secondaries – things like the RX100 – average between 5k and 10k before I sell them. The Hasselblads, by comparison, are mere babies at a grand total of less than 600 frames: I’ve shot and developed less than 50 rolls of medium format. 🙂

                    Ang Lee:
                    I loved Crouching Tiger. And Ang Lee’s recent motivational letter/ piece was wonderful: he was born to make films. I didn’t like The Life of Pi though; too much bad CG. At least with Crouching Tiger, it was all wirework – it looked plausible and real.

                    You know, I’m thinking I should just start a new post made up of our random-back-and-forth dialogue on things photographic (or tangentially photographic).

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      All Manual Lighting
                      Yes, you know I’d been aware of The Strobist blog pretty early into picking up photography as a hobby start of this year. Been there once; read, not understood, but logged in the memory banks. So [sensibly, I think] I left buying or even thinking about a speedlight as, at that time, I didn’t even know what ISO was; plus there was a flash already right there on camera—buying a speedlight straight away seemed like the epitome of trying to run before you could walk. Not that I’m innocent of that kind of thing! Fast-foward and I’d gotten to the point, about four weeks ago, where the built-in flash just wasn’t doing it for me, I knew enough about the basics to want to play more, experiment more and so I decided the next four weeks were going to be me saving for a speedlight. But, yes, ever since that first visit to The Strobist, I had it in my head that fully manual was the way to go. With the cheapo PC sync cord I got yesterday, and the wireless functionality I figured out with your help today—job done! I suppose I’m just a stickler and if it says “remote iTTL” on the box, I want to test that feature dagnammit 🙂 It’s been great, actually, I reckon I’ve learnt twice as much about the speedlight and the camera, just from trying to fiddle with functionality I’ll never really use! Ha. Well, you never know—I might end up being a wedding photographer someday and iTTL will come in handy [that and a constant eye over my shoulder for MT in ninja-stealth mode, CAMERA IN HAND].

                      But hold the phone:

                      the camera needs to emit something to measure the return and determine how much power the main flashes require for correct exposure

                      I can’t believe I’ve been so stupid, but, AHA! So this sounds like the flash metering is largely just a distance calc: x cms away, use this power; x’ cms away use that power, etc. Suddenly the “Guide Number” malarky all falls into place! The camera is just comparing measured distance, to ambient metering result, and picking out a flash power from a matrix—something like this?
                      [Though why wouldn’t it use the AF focus result for distance?]
                      I’m just a thick beginner, but I sat there this lunch time going to myself “well, I’ve got the commander in my hand here, all the iTTL is being done by my camera, again here, but the flash is over THERE. How the hell does it know how to calculate the exposure for that??” Sounds like the answer is simply: it doesn’t.

                      Anyway, balancing the ambient and flash the manual way—WORKS FOR ME.

                      Yep, sorry slip of the tongue above. No review review of the D800/D800E; though plenty of digital ink spilt on them here at I skipped the focus issue stuff [which is most of it!], but had read the mid term and first impressions a couple times, but as I say—this machine is just so far out of my league as to make articles on it only of casual interest; rather than the callow “ooh, want want want” gear head interest that kicks in for other cameras nearer my speed.
                      Had a later tea-break than usual today, but I read your D700 sum-up—obituary? Remembrance piece? No, Eulogy. Yes, eulogy is a better word. Crikey Ming… the D700 sounds right up my street, but it did just feel heavy to me. Maybe I’ll go for another play at the used store! Well, I have to stop myself right there. I don’t have the money for another camera so this is a mute point [well I do, but I don’t, if you know what I mean!].

                      In all seriousness, my next purchase, which is taking a good bit of saving, is going to be a new iMac. Our family machine was a moderately spec’ed 2008 iMac, with the cinema panel—I got that bit right, and that’s about all! When it comes to processing power for photos I don’t have what I need, what I would like [better than “want”]. This said, it runs CS3 OK; it does choke on big files, like the 46Mb monsters the DPMs supply! Not so quick-footed with D7000 RAWs either. So still going good, but a bit long in the tooth and is getting to the end of its useful life: if I can get the money together, I’d like to upgrade. This time I know I’ll be doing more than just net surfing and the usual yada yada yada; I’ve been swept away by the comedy of seriously serious photo taking now and want a machine to match. CS3 is great, don’t feel any need to upgrade there—though if a cheap upgrade to 5.5 was floating about, I might jump on one; not bothered about CS6, though if I’d gotten into this earlier I would’ve wanted to do the offered CS3 to 6 upgrade. I also think it’d be a good idea to try a little Wacom wotsit. I actually do most of my photo editing on the home MBP [also showing its age now] and my work MBA. The MBA is just all there is when I’m at work; but when at home, I often choose the MBP over the iMac because of the MBP’s track-pad: my poor man’s version of a Wacom tablet. On the MBP trackpad, when I’m brushing I use both hands: one index finger to click the trackpad down [mouse click] and index finger on the other hand is now my brushing implement. Not brilliant, but better than trying to do feathery or difficult brushing with a mouse. Would like to see what I could get with a Wacom—maybe the Wacom and tablets in general would a good topic for an article/review if ever a rainy day rolls around at Certainly could add it to the gear list, no?
                      [you might get some referral vouchers out of it?]

                      So anyway, no more cameras and lenses. But a new iMac is definitely desirable [photos or no] and would like to throw a Wacom in too—maybe for Christmas 2013? Let the Scroogery begin!

                      I’m just not a fan of what they did with the latest generation of iMacs though. Sorry, but I want an optical drive in my machine. And a bit of heft is actually desirable—I don’t care about slim and sexy past the point they already had it at in 2008 [though the new port for adding RAM is great on the new ones; the way to do it on mine was MISSION IMPOSSIBLE LEVEL SCARY. Pulling out memory modules with a plastic strip pull? Wow, WHO thought that was a good idea??].

                      So I’m kind of on the fence… Maybe by the time I have the money saved to get a machine, a new product cycle might be ready to go [though I can’t see them going back to thicker! fingers crossed though]

                      Didn’t you mention you were thinking about an upgrade to the post-processing hardware MT? Maybe I’m thinking of someone else… But if it was you, what’re you thinking of—just spitballing here 🙂

                      Can I just stand back in AWE for a moment at the number of frames you’ve shot.

                      — MOMENT OF AWE —

                      Wow. I’ve put a 600 on the D7000 now, since buying it a month ago and felt like that was herculean [bear in mind I’m shooting my other cameras too!]. Just goes to show: when you’re doing this for a living, the stakes are much, much higher. Can relate—in my work, I get through two or three student notebooks a week, and these are just my scribbles, rough notes, brainstorming bits; not including all the text I rack up on the computer. I feel like you and all the other photogs on here can relate: to get one professionally useable word, I write in the order of hundreds and hundreds. I wrote a 200 page story in a week to get a three line advertising blurb: not that was going above and beyond the call of duty. And frankly I vowed NEVER AGAIN, afterward. Anyway, I think the “keeper” rate [not necessarily what goes to clients, but what would be professionally kosher] in my experience is probably comparable to the 2% keeper rate in yours. Usually, the copy keeper was about the second or third thing I wrote, but I can NEVER stop at that. The other 400 or so words are to 1) do the process, as Confucius decreed: if you haven’t followed the process the end result is empty, 2) reassure myself that the second or third word really was the one, and 3) acting: clients just feel like they’ve got their money’s worth — and I’m WAY more likely to get green lights — if I walk in with reams of notes and scribbles and clippings and documents. Understandable, I’d be the same if the tables were turned.

                      Mr Ang Lee
                      I was SO happy when they gave him an Oscar; but it sounds like he got it for the wrong film! Did you ever see THE ICE STORM. What a story, what a group of actors. A very adult, balanced, deft piece of art/entertainment. It had it all. The academy gave him nothing. But I’m so proud of Mr Lee; you can bet you bottom dollar, despite what everyone may say, as a non-American, as a non-Caucasain and a non native-English speaking director, THAT WAS AGAINST ALL ODDS. Which is why your line about him being born to do it is so right—you just can’t deny talent like that. It shines through again and again.

                      Haha, well a thread of our ramblings would be fun—perhaps everyone would join in? We all love a little ramble every now and then, heh? 🙂

                    • Manual lighting:
                      If you go back far enough on Strobist – to the very early days – you’ll find an article on me there. I know David quite well and have the highest respect for him.

                      The camera doesn’t always use the AF distance because a) you may be using a manual lens; b) different subjects have different reflectivity.

                      Yes, it almost was an eulogy. It’s heavy, but solid and inspires confidence. I didn’t like it the first time I used one – I had a D3 – but it grew on me to the point I had trouble letting mine go; in the end I needed drybox space and I hadn’t used it for nearly half a year at that point, which is an age for me considering I shoot heavily and daily.

                      Don’t get an iMac. It’s not upgradeable, and in future, the perfectly good panel will be junk. Go with a Mac Mini and Thunderbolt Display; it’s user-tinkerable, just as powerful (bar the graphics card) and about the same price. You can recycle the display later and have more ports. I’m using this setup myself as of late 2012, and it flies even with D800E and CFV-39 files. A good measure of a computer is how big a feathered dodge or burn brush it can run without lagging – I’m good up to 2500 pixels. Wacoms are already on the gear list…start with the Bamboo and move up once you’re comfortable.

                      Heft: buy an F6. It makes the D700 feel hollow.

                      My learning curve is faster than average because I shoot and experiment more than average. Why do you think I’m such a huge advocate of practice? Also…each article has about ten images on average; some more, some less. I upload this many daily. These images have to come from somewhere 🙂 I do know once I’ve got ‘the shot’ though – I stop at that point. It makes reviewing easy.

                      Ang Lee:
                      I didn’t understand that film at the time I watched it, honestly. Perhaps time to watch it again.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Can I just say, I rifled that one out again—plenty of typos. But “mute point” is not a typo, or a mistake. I know about moot points… and I don’t like the phrase. I would say the point was mooted, but I wouldn’t say a moot point. I prefer “mute point.”

                      Welcome to Planet Tom 🙂

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Yes, noticed your work being cited on The Strobist, Ming. Didn’t you make a few cameo writing/comment appearances too?

                      Jeff kindly recommended David’s site to me earlier as well. I think you’d have to go a long way to find someone with a bad word to say about it. You don’t have to read much of Mr Hobby’s blog to see he’s a great guy; and this is before we approach his content! I read lighting 101 all last month—without a speedlight or light stand or anything, just trying to do it in my head and pretending with the built in flash on the D7000. Haha.

                      You bet I’m going to be trying it all for real this month.

                      But, wow, I’m so glad I mentioned picking up the Di622 in passing; and SO GLAD I mentioned the iMac upgrade, too!

                      Here’s my train [iPhoned this on my way out of work! 🙂 ] so the commute home will be spent researching thunderbolt displays and Mac minis. In your debt, as always.

                      m(. .)m

                      P/S my commute home is over an hour by the way—just to put yesterday’s tapped post in perspective! I’m quick but not as quick as the high schoolers. Especially the girls => FAST!

                      P/P/S Yes Ming, give THE ICE STORM another go. I haven’t visited it in a long while, but I clearly remember at the time it was unfairly overlooked by the academy, and to be blunt—the general public.
                      I must find this letter of his you mentioned: another item for the killing time on the commute

                      Without further ado 🙂

                    • Yes, I did 🙂

                      The next time I’m in Tokyo – possibly soonish, or towards the end of the year – you are SO buying sushi.

                      As for the high-schoolers, they’re probably typing in Japanese. And they have smaller fingers.

                      Ang Lee – not a letter, my bad; his post-2006 Oscar speech:

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Haha 🙂

                      If I had deeper pockets “kaizen” would be the choice: a more refined and cultured dine—it’s very ornate little tidbits that come out of the kitchen one by one and SLOWLY. But it’s a great way to eat sushi/sashimi… I think it’s something to do with the Eastern approach: the food the drink are to be savored but so is the company. Not an afterthought, as an integral part of the meal. In Kaizen, the long wait they give you between servings is part of the joy—to enjoy good company and the sedate pace.

                      Costs the earth, but there it is. I know a good one in Shinjuku.

                      When it comes to “regular” sushi, there are a few levels but I like what I call the “Taisho” type. “Taisho” is like “chief” in colloquial Japanese and this is what the punters will call the chef:

                      Chief! Three “ebi” three “hotaru” three “fugu”

                      Like that. While they are a step up from conveyor belt sushi (which is good, don’t get me wrong) they aren’t as straitjacketed as Kaizen, so hit a nice spot. To be honest though, sushi is over-lionized in the West—these places are just specialized drinking joints: the punters have “keep” bottles lined up in them. “Keep bottles” are the restaurant’s way of selling in—they flog you a whole bottle of something expensive, and write your name in big white marker on it; if you don’t drink the whole thing, they keep it for you, for next time. It’s a nice transaction, actually, salarymen love walking into one of these places and asking the Taisho to crack open that keep bottle. Everyone loves feeling like a local, an insider. A regular.

                      Well that was the walk home!

                      Thanks for the Ang Lee link Ming—-will read over dinner 😀

                    • The Taisho type is what I’m after. The kind where you can have one of everything and still have film money left, and the patrons are mostly local regulars. There would be some seasonal specials, but nothing super fancy. I usually go to one in a back alley in Ginza behind Itoya.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      OK! So next time you’re in Tokyo => my turn to be the gracious host.

                      You can do the “Taisho!” calls 😉

                      [I know a good few places — Aoyama, Shinjuku, Ginza; but also further off the beaten track — and if I ask my colleagues in the sales department: we’ll get an avalanche of suggestions. I can almost taste the tea!]

                    • Sounds like a plan!

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Just don’t make it July/August: baby due on the 12th of July 😮 😀

                    • Congrats. Also, typhoon season isn’t fun.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Wow, if anyone else is looking in: READ THAT ANG LEE LINK.

                      Amazing guy.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      No, typhoon season not fun BUT I recall you mentioning to someone that you got some really good stuff in the middle of a storm some place… So I’m secretly looking forward to “Tsuyu” [monsoon season] here in Tokyo; hits around June = just around the corner. If we can get some umbrella inverting wind too—I’M BRAVING THE ELEMENTS AND SO IS THE D7000 for a shot of the ensuing drama 🙂

                      I was actually considering a little waterproof P&S for this exact purpose!

                    • Yes, but there are limits to weather sealing…

          • Tom,

            Wow. Thanks. Esteemed company indeed, and never would I have placed myself within a million miles of these men. I was going to email this response, but seeing as Ming chimed in there at the end I figured I’d keep this rolling a bit longer. I’m wrapping up some thoughts from up above and also your reply to Larry. Here we go…

            I found it interesting that you mentioned spirituality and mysticism, and I agree that most would find any mention of these subjects silly. It amazes me with the supposed level of intelligence on this planet how constrained the lines of thought can become regardless of the level of “intelligence.” “No, I’m sorry the information you have provided does not coincide with the evidence that supports my belief system, so what you have suggested is irrelevant.” Really? Are we really that arrogant and linear in our thinking that once we have set coarse our path is unalterably set? Ah the ego, what a convenient tool. It really is the means by which this Matrix is really possible. Our path is laid out for us. All the things we must achieve are set forth and as long as we stay the coarse, stay within the system, we become important within the system. We are significant. A thousand years from now I will be infinitely more insignificant than I already am. Nothing I do, or anyone else for that matter, will change that. We are all in the same boat. All insignificant. It is really a beautiful thought……… IF the ego dies, are we not free of this Matrix? Free of it’s confines and constraints. Free to question religion, science, spirituality, mysticism, and every aspect of our existence?

            Ok on to your response to Larry…. The first couple parts, thermodynamics, and balls and cushions…. yeah… totally out of my league! Where you piqued my interest was the discussion on the predominate linear (oh now I’ve gone and tied into my last paragraph!) school of thought on the beginning and end of the universe as we know it. Never could wrap my mind round something from nothing. Cyclical. Yeah that makes more sense. You want layman! I’ll show you layman! No science here, only simple observation and some logic or illogic. Look around, cyclical systems are everywhere. Why the obsession with linear? There doesn’t really have to be a beginning and an end. Tom you said it earlier “It just is.” The universe has always existed. Always will. If we do as you suggest and remove the constraints (especially time) is this really a hard concept to understand. Where we have a problems is as individuals we see ourselves existing in a linear fashion. We are born, we live, we die, and proceed on into the after life (of your choosing, a couple to pick from!) in this linear pattern. So is it not merely man’s ego altering his view of reality to coincide with his perceived linear existence?

            And I’m spent….. That”s all for now. Tom, I’m truly in awe of your ability to write on that iPhone! Ming as well. Turtles fornicate faster than I read and type (even with a full key board)!!!!

            • Time is a human construct and a human shackle: nothing else really cares about absolute time, only relative within a limited cycle. I don’t think an animal has a concept of how many years it’s lived; it’s all the same within the same cycle. It’s both our strength – the ability to see linearly and use causality to create logical flows/ structures – and our weakness; the unnecessary pressure of production we put on ourselves. Or maybe that’s just me*.

              *I can’t type anywhere near as fast as Tom on an iphone; I’ve once written an article on one, but that was painful. I need a good keyboard and large monitor, then on a good day I can hit about 130. If I didn’t type this fast, I’d spend my entire day just answering email.

              • Tom Liles says:

                I’m touched 🙂

                I think you’d give me a good run for my money. But I am so cocky I think I could shame a stenographer!

                • Tom Liles says:

                  By the by, I use “Notes” for iPhone comments/typing; then copy paste into whatever it is. Fonts are displayed a little bigger on screen in Notes so it’s easier to tap/review. Not optimal though, that’s for sure!

                • Hah! I yield on the iphone. But the right keyboard and sorry, no chance.

            • Tom Liles says:

              I once, in my prime, was the second best Tekken3 player [arcade and later video, game] in the UK. I write for a living… My fingers are FAST Jeff 🙂

              But we’re not racing! As Louis Armstrong, said, we have all the time in the World

              [very deep line]

            • Tom Liles says:

              Hi Jeff

              There were a couple of routes I could’ve done this, but I thought I’d go this one [to start with].

              On Spirituality/Mysticism…
              It’s always hard to get the tone right on this, isn’t it. On the surface, I’m about as far from a mystic or spiritual type as it gets; but perhaps my Catholic upbringing did something to me on the inside. I think it’s just about honesty, which is not always comfortable or convenient. I’m confident that we all, to our varying degrees, have our spiritual sides and a deep need for the unknown, the mystic. As we were talking about, the tragedy of Life Today(c) is that we’ve cut ourselves off — and it is only us that’ve done this — cut ourselves off from these dimensions of our psyche. Art keeps us hanging on by the fingernails.
              We [modern society] might laugh at the thought practices of aborigines, for example; but however crude they might seem to us, aboriginal men, women and children are more advanced than us [because we’ve regressed] when it comes to things like honesty, charity, what ancient Greeks called “the virtues.” Yes of course aboriginal communities have their baddies, but no, nowhere near on the scale [pound for pound] that we do. I’m not sure if anyone really stops to think about that. There have been cases — more than one — in Japan of men kidnapping young girls, people’s daughters, girls on their way home from school; kidnapping them, locking them in a basement… I’ll stop myself, I had written out what happens next but it is heavy stuff and we’ve all have heard stories [non-fiction stories] like this… plus as a parent, this is really too close to the bone. I’m a writer and a believer in honesty and truth above all else, but my sense of decorum gets in the way here… but my point: for all the bad stuff that may happen among aborigines, or tribes that live in the trees in Madagascar, or African bushmen, or rainforest indians, I can be certain, CERTAIN, that they have nothing like our truly sick modern crimes. So I have to concede to them—they are doing some better than we are. What are they doing? Well, they pay attention to their dreams; they observe religious rites; they cultivate their ties to nature. The indian who’s just downed a boar will give thanks to the Gods, thanks to the boar’s spirit; generally “make peace” with the system that sustains him. I’ve never cupped my hands and whispered words over a double cheeseburger: and I LOVE double cheeseburgers. I wouldn’t. There’s an obvious qualitative difference between catching and killing my food myself, the boar; and McCorporations serving it up to me. But this doesn’t negate the need for me to make a connection, to reconcile, yes spiritually, my sustenance and the system that provided it. If you want it in a more modern and fashionable guise, it’s what Marx called False Consciousness. The consumer completely disconnected from the thing he consumes [and in Marx’s analysis, therefore the real living breathing human being who created it, the worker—easy not to care about sweatshop labor when it’s another country, another people, and all I’m presented with and have to worry about is whether I want the Bulls color Jordan Is or the black-gold patent leather ones. In turn, damaging to the worker who output the product, never to see where it goes or share fairly in the profits of his labor].

              Spirituality and mysticism were just two examples. We could mention others; you’re spot on: these are just things that don’t fit the contemporary social milieu and norms. A philosopher and writer called Michel Foccault showed us that madness is a modern invention: a category designation that we communally invented and bought into as a group a century or so back [we set the guidelines: this is OK = sane; this is mad = insane]. Foccault was interested in the mechanisms of that invention and acceptance, and found they weren’t explicit or organized—there wasn’t a coordinated effort by a cabal of bankers or the NWO, etc., to set this definition… Foccault found that disparate engines of culture, a writer here, a painter there, a cleric over there, somehow all shaped this definition without any collaboration at all: I think that fits nicely with your “collective consciousness.” It was an irresistible tide of intent.

              Modern love, or what we think of as love, — our version is better spelt “lurve” — is more-or-less a Victorian literary invention [and put on steroids by Hollywood]: the “love at first sight,” “whirlwind romance” stuff. A Roman wouldn’t have the faintest idea what you were talking about. Neither would a medieval knight—one of the icons of romance! I love my wife, deeply, and I knew when I met her that she was the woman I’d marry: but it didn’t happen like the movies. And perhaps here’s your Matrix again. We always hear the line: doesn’t happen like it does in the movies. We always hear that, know it and understand it. Yet, the movies and media keep on showing things happening that way, and we keep on going to watch them. It takes two to tango. Christ, the apartment that they lived in in FRIENDS—remember that? No way, NO WAY, even with them all clubbing in, they get to live in that apartment with those jobs, in NYC. Impossible. And we love it. There’re a million examples, aren’t there.

              So it could have been any of many, but I chose spirituality and mysticism. For me they are really what’s missing in modern life; though I don’t mean it in any stereotypical way. Would just going to Church solve things? I can’t see that it would—so I make a note to myself that outward ceremony and appearance may have been important in the past, but the psychological significance of the underlying rite is what mattered. For these kind of rites to have any force whatsoever, you need an active unconscious, I think. We moderns have our dark sides, the inner us, and our unconscious so tightly screwed down, we barely even notice them. And, as mentioned, to bring it up, investigate or talk about it is not the done thing. The conscious mind is obviously opposed to the unconscious mind—a kind of war within, if you like. It seems plain that the conscious is nearly totally victorious. This might be the next step in the evolutionary ladder. Not in my view. But what do I know! 🙂

              More Matrix

              So is it not merely man’s ego altering his view of reality to coincide with his perceived linear existence?

              I could explain the thermodynamics stuff back, and the mode for getting to “something from anything” instead of “something from nothing” but maybe for next time. I have 10 minutes left before bed, so I’ll use it on the above line instead!

              You may well be right, Jeff. A German philosopher, another “man supreme,” called Immanuel Kant also thought this. They say Kant’s views were a Copernican revolution in philosophy. Copernicus was the guy who put it that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system — the “heliocentric” model — and solved all the problems that astrologers had had up until then. Poof! Brave fella if you ask me: fancy standing up before the Pontiff and dropping that one on him!? But Copernicus did! What Kant did was [in a funny way the opposite] to reposit the outside world — thought of as being purely apart and objective by basically all philosophers up until then — as being contingent upon our perception of it; not only that, our abilities to reason about it, i.e., see time as linear, etc. Like a rose tinted pair of glasses—when you wear them, everything has a rose tint. Well, Kant said, we have space and time; cause and effect tinted glasses on! Our brains just can’t do anything else. This led him to say [you can probably see it now] that we can never know a thing “in itself,” a thing as it really is. Only how we see it and how our brain models it. If you want to do the Matrix analogy—we only see things how they are presented to us. A table is not a table.
              The problem with Kant’s logic is that “things in themselves,” the unknowable objects, can’t be a part of reality, therefore are unreal, therefore poof! do not exist. No more difficult thing to worry about [just stick to what I do have right in front of me, here and now]. On hearing this, if you start to feel like “yeah but…” then you are trying to grant a status of existence to the “thing in itself.” If it exists in this real world, even a tiny tippy toe in here, then it must partake in reality in some way, therefore be confirmable as part reality, therefore sensory to reality, therefore detectable, therefore no more “thing in itself that can never be known.” There’s just no room for grey when it comes to ontology [the philosophy of being: what is, what isn’t]. It is binary, i.e., digital, 1 or 0; 1 and 0 is also a language component, the language of logic, with this language we can build other languages, with those we can build systems, with those we can run programs, and with those I’m talking to you right now 🙂

              Maybe you can see where I get to my ideas about computing space from!

              Only unlike the matrix, I think the computer, the program, and the contents of the run time are all the same thing. That’s called holism.

              Well, wouldn’t you know it. That’s my whole thing for tonight [this morning now!]. My 10 minutes are up. I’ll leave it here Jeff as I suppose we’ve just about broken poor old Ming’s talkback system. It wasn’t designed for wafflers like me 🙂

              Will drop you a mail!

  6. A.A.Stephens says:

    I followed the discussion, but in all open honesty I got lost halfway thru it… Out of my depth !

    Nonetheless, outstanding discussion and kudos to Ming for allowing his blog to open to his followers in this way

    • Thank you 🙂

      Sometimes we have to have some diversions from photography in order for us to become better photographers…

  7. I enjoy your articles but I think you are out of your depth here.

    • Hey, at least I tried. Which is more than can be said for most…

    • Tom Liles says:

      Hi Mike,

      I think maybe the first clause of your comment was intended for Ming, and the second for me?

      Yes, I’m out of my depth!

      So what?


      1) If your whole comment was intended for Ming… well, let’s just leave aside whether you’ve looked at his background, or not. That’s actually irrelevant as it happens—a) do you understand the purpose of the article, what it was intended for? How serious it takes itself? b) where has Ming made it apparent that he thinks he knows the answers and is in his depth? and c) your comment is in effect “why try?” do you think this is a useful comment to make [on this thread, of all threads]?

      2) “You are out of your depth” is actually related to my feelings wrt to Ming’s question: written in bold type on the article, 2nd and 3rd lines 1st para. I’m sure you read it. So if that’s what you meant: I’m with you. I don’t think it was quite what you meant though, was it? What did you mean? Perhaps we’ll never know…

      Ok, I’ll duck out here. Feel free to wail on me if you like, Mike. I don’t want any trouble—just saying: bit of a negative comment to make 😦

      [Really, who are we bothering with our conversation here? Ming and me? Ah well…]

  8. Tom Liles says:

    Well, I’m going to have another go on the merry-go-round if there are no takers!

    I called a merry-go-round a “roundabout” yesterday! God.
    [roundabouts are road obstacles in the UK for controlling the flow of traffic. Yes, there will be other meanings listed in the dictionary, but that’s the dictionary; in the living language, a roundabout is a traffic island—what’s in the park is a merry-go-round.]
    I am a native English speaker, promise I am, but speaking everyday in my second language, and being required to write in it quite a bit for work, my brain gets itself in knots, tricks itself, loses all ability to error detect when I flip back to my first language. It’s quite stressful. I find the better and more fluent I am in my second language, the less native and more affected my first becomes. I said “quantum physics” for “quantum mechanics” the other week. It drives me crazy. I know the non-English speakers on here know what I’m talking about. And while I’ve got you guys, the ESL crowd: WELL DONE! I’m sorry us native speakers don’t stop to say this more. I don’t wish to be cloying or sound sarcastic — all too easy in this post-modern World, or on the internetz — no, I just want to give a friendly pat on the back: well done. And thank you for making the effort. I understand English isn’t Ming’s first language either; looking at the man’s mastery of the lingo, though, I think Ming has transcended distinctions like this. But what the hell—well done and thank you to you, too, Ming.

    Have I bought enough karma points, yet? Maybe yes!

    OK, I wanted to mount the merry-go-round one more time to address a theme in the kind responses to my “one liner” stuff. And to throw a taunt to the photogs [I consider myself a photog now, so please don’t take this language too adversarially!].

    1) There’s more there/to it…

    Kristian, Ming, Gordon, and I’m sure silent others all mention some sense of there being more to it. Something behind/in/about images, specifically photographic images for our purposes here. That there’s some extra step [emotional or intellectual] waiting to be taken—but not everyone can take it, and so on. Mmm… I chose the words in that line I left my first post with very carefully [except for the first word “And” which is not part of the copy and was just included for the sakes of rhetoric]. To completely destroy my line now, I’ll [needlessly] explain it a little more: faith, was a very lucid choice and the pivot on which all the meaning and nuance leverages. Can we take a beat to stay on that word and what it implies? Done. Moving on: is faith not all that you guys have, there?

    Where you might misunderstand me, is that faith, to me, is all there is. Faith is not hot air. Faith is as concrete as it gets. That water boils, and will boil, at 100C at sea level and standard atmospheric pressure is an article of faith. It is. Yes, faith has very real effects. Blindfold someone, feed them cold spaghetti and tell them they’re eating worms—no, ok, don’t! 🙂 But we all did it as kids. Or at least I hope we did. When they believe you, you know what happens. QED. Pepsi Co did the same but gave their subjects Coke and Pepsi and asked them to choose: everyone chose Pepsi. But before removing their blindfolds, the Pepsi Challengers were asked to name the brand, and they all said “Coke!” They all knew [it was common knowledge] going into the test, that Coke was the number one brand; the number one brand must taste the best. That was/is their/our faith. For more, see Leica. Psychologists have shown the next step to be true: wine tasters who insisted that wine tasted better in the proper glass [a Riedel glass]—in blindfolded tests, of course the glass had zero, no, none, zilcho influence on the tasters’ sensory experience of the wine; blindfolds off, the effect is back again. The point, it’s seismic, is that the tasters weren’t lying. Knowing the brand of glass actually did change their experience of the wine. Psychosomatic I think the bods call that. Not an illusion or trick. Actually changed their experience of it. Most cultures have made use of this for centuries—the presentation of most Japanese food is not accidental. Japan is a mountainous country and to get to fresh food meant hiking over mountains before there were things like modern transport networks. So in centuries old Japan, the food wasn’t always the freshest. This is not the only reason Japanese food has traditionally been so ornately presented, but it’s a big part. Chefs knew/know the first bite is with the eyes. And that this decides all experience thereafter. Perhaps I’m stilted toward such a view because I use this knowledge at a very basic level everyday at work. My superiors, some of who are trained psychologists, sell higher weapons-grade versions of it to advertisers in the hopes it will make people buy things [don’t worry! It barely works. True story. The guys who just invent slogans, brandnames, campaigns from their gut ALWAYS do better than reverse engineered top-down calculated psychology stuff… but keep it quiet—it keeps us all in a job]. When you only have a hammer, all problems look like they can be solved with a bit of hammering 🙂

    I don’t think so, though.

    “The first bite is with the eyes…” This is perhaps a restatement of what I mean with the one liner schtick. Yes there is all the taste and sensory experience in the eating, but that metaphorical first bite [one bite, unitary] sealed the deal—it is the sine qua non of the entire experience. I say this first bite is synonymous with “all that there is.” And mean it in the same vein as when we were talking about the supposed separation of particles and wholes yesterday, Ming. I’m calling it a “first bite” or “one liner” but its extent isn’t trivial. It’s simultaneously the whole thing and yet only a fraction of it. And it was born of something like an article of faith. The same way as it’s furthered [you guys’ “more to it,” if you must have it].

    So, Larry mentions axioms. Yes! yes, yes, yes. On what do axioms rest? On what does Science rest? One of the philosophers I admire — W.O. Quine — coined something called the Duhem-Quine Thesis [along with a guy named Duhem, obviously; Pierre Duhem]. I recommend giving this a go. I would because I agree with it entirely [as far as I can understand it].

    Christ, David Hume’s problem of induction [c.f., boiling point of water, above]. I don’t buy Karl Popper or any other’s so called “solution” of Hume’s problem for a moment. They just switch semantic goal posts and pretend it’s all OK. It’s not. No one, to my amateur understanding, has solved this problem. It’s a hole in huge red letters with neon arrows flashing at it, in the supposed seamless dominion of the scientific method and its mode for knowing. The person who thinks science can and will solve everything, is definitely not a scientist. Even if he is a scientist [i.e., don’t trust a scientist who thinks he can go it alone with just the scientific method—Richard Dawkins may be a good example].

    Duhem-Quine, Hume’s problem, if this doesn’t illustrate that it’s all in the air, what does. Who knows! Faith is all there is. Science is the most steeped in this, of all.
    [Mathematics the least]

    So what absolute is there on which we can rest anything?

    There is none. No, of course not. There’s just us and the universe—and I think we’re the same thing. Self-reflexivity is the only sensible course. This is what John Archibald Wheeler felt like—the universe as a self-exited circuit. I don’t mean anything as grandiose as that here. But just, self-reflexivity as a source for meaning. No more external absolutes. This view also does away with determinism-indeterminism.

    I choose: self-determinism.

    And go further—it’s the only option with any actual meaning, when you think about it.

    So, photographs…

    a) if there is anything AT ALL, this is raw faith,
    b) and if it is there, it is there only at the surface,
    c) it is simultaneously simple and complex
    d) you get this straight away, or you don’t
    e) there is no more “to it” [and you’ve missed the profundity if you think so. I think Gordon’s T.S Eliot quote puts it better.]

    I’d like to finish on a bit of a taunt. This is entirely tongue in cheek, and as I hope you know me by now, I’m a pretty regular guy [except when the topic of self-configuring self-processing languages or overdetermination and Quine Holism rolls around, as it does :)] who wouldn’t lay a glove on anyone and enjoys nothing more than peace, harmony, love and having fun. BUT…

    If photography is so deep, if there’s more to it, if we’re engaged in art and philosophy and interpreting the World, and etc…

    Then why does a post, on one of the sharper photography blogs — in my opinion the sharpest photography blog — about these things only get 30-odd comments.

    — And a post about hobbies, 300

    — And a post about gear, nigh on 400

    I think it’s quite clear that photography is not as weighty as we consider, or would like, it to be.

    /steps off the merry-go-around, gingerly looks about, hopes he’s not about to get the boot…

    • Holy wow. At this rate, I should just post a question and let my readers write the article in the comments, gently steered as yours truly as editor…now that’s crowdsourcing. 🙂

      Actually, I can’t speak my first language. I’ve been in an English-language environment since I could speak, so I suppose I have no excuses, really.

      1) Faith is definitely the most solid thing there is: without it, we question everything, and become paralyzed into inaction for fear of the consequences. As for Japanese food, the difficulty in preservation was how sushi came about in the first place; the vinegar was to preserve the fish and disguise the smell…funny how taste buds have now been conditioned to expect it as part of the rice seasoning. There’s definitely a psychological effect of ‘more expensive’ being better; otherwise the whole luxury industry would collapse. And it must be very widespread, seeing as a) they’re doing better than ever despite the general economic climate, and b) even though I know they’re injection-moulded leaky rubbish, part of me still wants to own a Mont Blanc pen. Etc.

      2) The first bite being with the eyes – I think this goes back to my point about it being a visual world and a good portion of the ‘punch’ being held by an image.

      3) I’m of the partially deterministic mentality because otherwise the universe cannot exist as a closed system: if we all had complete free will, then a) a lot of things would contradict and b) net good/positive/increase/more outweighs net bad/negative/reduction which violates observable laws of thermodynamics. (There is a way to prove the existence of a higher being down this route, but that’s another subject for another time). We have the illusion of free will based on the limited information we have, but the resultant end states of all choices must be predetermined for this reason.

      The answer to your question on the number of responses is probably down to the fact that most people haven’t actively thought about it – you can do just fine on a day-to-day basis without doing so, plus it’s not exactly straightforward – and we know that gear rules the roost, because it’s a) tangible b) visible as a status symbol c) holds the promise of potential, if you know how to use it. It’s how I built my readership, and chances are, probably how most people found the site. That we are having this discussion here at all is noteworthy at all: can you imagine a post like this on any other photography site? 🙂

      • Tom Liles says:

        Well, for starters, thanks for not kicking me off the park! 😀

        I didn’t mention it—but your words earlier were spot on:

        maybe philosophy is the method, the art/ photography is the output

        I think you’ve gotten to it, there Ming. I can buy into this. As discussed, yes, you need a philosophy to [inform how you] make strong images, be a meaningful artist. So yes, you need to be philosophically inclined to be a good photog. In this sense: The Photographer as Philiopher? = yes.
        [Grudgingly. Can I put it: The photographer is a bit philosophy-y? :)]
        [[I don’t say “philosophic” because I want it to sound a bit sillier.]]


        as your second clause then hints at—the products of our camera work are not philosophy [by necessity]. Or objects of. In the same way that I’m an Englishman but but not everything I produce is “English.” OK, that was awful… Mmm… In the same way that I’m an engineer, but what I produce is one word slogans. The latest catch-copy that I wrote does not contain within it 4 years worth of maths, physics and chemistry—though that training informed my method [coffee often has more to do with it, but I digress…].

        Re: faith…

        I went into it so much there as I want to try and convince people how much this pervades everything, whether they like it or not. For example how unscientific science is [I’m just picking on science as it’s the most forceful example]. When I say unscientific, that is a loaded term—I mean “unscientific” vis-a-vis what most non-scientists think science is. My mum, my sisters, my wife, most of the in-laws, extended family, my friends, my colleagues, everyone in my circles who never seriously studied the sciences all think science is 100% applicable to anything and comes up with 100% stone cold FACT. Like, WATER BOILS AT 100C, THESE ARE THE FACTS THEY ARE INDISPUTABLE. Does this cadence sound eerily familiar? I was brought up Catholic, so it’s like mother’s milk to me [that was sarcasm]. The media’s presentation of science, fully aided and abetted by many scientists, is the 21st century version of the Old Testament. You don’t want to be in the naysaying Hittites, Canaanites, etc.
        I happen to believe in intelligent design. Not the Christian version [which I don’t have a problem with, you can’t vouch for needing a theory, a philosophy, as much as I have and then come down like a ton of bricks on the first group who have one that discomforts you]; my belief is different, but still a theory that could only be called intelligent design. I won’t bore you with it, or embarrass myself any further! But just letting this nugget go — that I think the Universe is designed, intelligently [by itself, as it happens] — is the equivalent of coming out and saying you’re Jewish in medieval Spain. What stings is the inquisition are usually people who don’t know what makes water boil. Still…

        I’ve said it before, but it seems plain that Art is a religion, that it works on religious feelings, tendencies and the big daddy of them all—the innate human need for it. I don’t believe in Damien Hirst: stupid squiggles on canvas and pedestrian object collecting to me. But Jeff Koons is a genius. That’s just me, but either way both have their followers. Coteries of clapping luvvy collectors with more money than sense; precious wannabe understudies, truebelievers, living on the breadline because artists should starve [to be pure]. These are tropes we know, inside out, from organized religion. We’ve approached the artworks themselves above—but, yes, their value, their power, their meaning [you way or mine] is all predicated on faith.

        I dunno, most regular people think of science and art as being opposed. They’re certainly treated as such by society—my Alma Mater didn’t have an art department; and my colleagues where I work now, mainly art-school graduates, mostly hadn’t met, never mind worked with, scientific types in their adult lives. But look at this—art and science [and everything!] are both set on the same foundation: faith.

        I’ll grant you, in science we’re talking about highly corroborated faith. That water boils at 100C at sea level and atmospheric pressure is so highly corroborated, the chances against on an a-priori assertion about what temperature the next pot of water to be boiled in such conditions will actually boil at, are infinitesimally small. But there’s no deductive route to this result. Nothing that would carry the same inescapable logical force as 2+2=4. It’s not there. What is, is faith in the corroboration as a predictor, faith in the assumptions, faith in the interplay of all the physical theories and quantities that make up the web of inductive knowledge on which “water boils at 100C” sits.

        …the resultant end states of all choices must be predetermined for this reason

        I’d love to get into this and pick your brain—but the kitchen awaits me 😦

        I’ll say this. “Predetermining” is a bit slippy—as it smuggles in a temporal model. I think a dimension is missing from this analysis. For me there is no past or future—only now, and all time. In fact HCB said this about his photos once! He said a photo is: only once, forever. What a man. Anyway, no predetermined or foreseeable end-states. I think the universe is literally making it up as it goes along. One of my heroes, Konrad Zuse, was the first modern man to have this idea. He wrote a book called Rechnender Raum, or Computing Space. Mr Zuse built the first Turing compliant computer by the way; he was on the side of the Nazis in WWII so, unfortunately, ideology [ours] gets in the way and this information, Mr Zuse’s technological achievements, aren’t as lauded as they should be. Anyway, Computing Space, as the title implies, posits that the Universe is really a kind of computer, that is self-computing. On my view, this computation is dynamic and happening right now [from our view]—results are only known when they’re known. That’s as good as it gets. I think you and me might actually be quite close, Ming, but just to say, I’m not sure I like leaving too much room for things like predetermination…

        My Rechnender Raum stuff can get misconstrued as a THE MATRIX type deal… Funny you mentioned that before eh! The difference would be I’m not talking about simulation. There is a popular theory, isn’t there, about how we might just be in a big simulation. Not in my book, as if we’re a simulation then that requires some causal pipe back to wherever the simulation is being run from, and therefore that place is also part of reality [since there’s a causal connection] and this doesn’t do many favors for the “closed manifold” picture of the universe which anyone with any sense believes to be the case. No, my computing space is no simulation, it is the reality, I mean actual reality itself—it is computing what is real right now, every instant, every planck time tick of the clock. Except it is a self-reflexive computer and computation. The output is not some inert data-set, the output is the next input as well as the computer: an ontological feedback loop…

        Hey, listen, this is starting to get like word salad. My apologies.

        But if you think I’m bad, let me tie it up with this guy: he’s going to link HCB, The Matrix, word salad, my “one liners” and photography all in one. May I present to you:

        Mr Robert Bresson

        [on cinematography]

        That is arty stuff. You’ll either get it, or not. Or be unsure. I’m in the unsure camp. But there was this one liner in there [ta da!] that I love and I think, better than any words I’ve ever seen, capture the spirit of being shallow and deep at the same time. Here it is:


        • We’ve approached the artworks themselves above—but, yes, their value, their power, their meaning [you way or mine] is all predicated on faith.

          Is it faith or a certain base for interpretation that’s core to us as a human species? For what it’s worth, I’m Muslim, but I don’t think my aesthetic sensibilities that fundamentally different from yours, or any of the other people who follow the site or my Flickr stream.

          I dunno, most regular people think of science and art as being opposed.

          They’re not. In fact, most cutting edge science is a healthy part gut feel/ experimentation in a certain direction: that sounds a lot like…art.

          [snip] faith in the interplay of all the physical theories and quantities that make up the web of inductive knowledge on which “water boils at 100C” sits.

          Or, even more fundamentally, our definition of 100C, atmospheric pressure etc, and how we measure those.

          …the resultant end states of all choices must be predetermined for this reason

          I’d love to get into this and pick your brain—but the kitchen awaits me

          I’ll say this. “Predetermining” is a bit slippy—as it smuggles in a temporal model.

          Yes, it’s a cop-out for a word that doesn’t exist. Time is a human construct to give dimensionality and a logical flow to causality. Without causality, there’s no determinism, and the whole concept of free will based on a model of action and consequence goes completely out of the window. The universe as a computer…now there’s an interesting concept. James Rollins actually explores a similar idea of a quantum selection device in a very entertaining and well-written fiction book – Black Order.

          There is a popular theory, isn’t there, about how we might just be in a big simulation.

          “What is ‘real’? How do you define ‘real’?”


          It’s a bit like photography, isn’t it? Put all the knobs and dials in the right place, aim in the right direction, hit the shutter at the right moment, and voila.

          I’ve sent you something via email you might enjoy.

          • Tom Liles says:

            Is it faith or a certain base for interpretation that’s core to us as a human species?

            Well, faith is the base for interpretation.

            That’s my thrust! I said: We’ve approached the artworks themselves above—but, yes, their value, their power, their meaning [your way or mine] is all predicated on faith. To make my point clearer, I should have added the words “in them” on the end. Works of art — good, bad, ugly — openly invite the religious response. The belief that’s there anything to a collection of marks on a page or dots on matte, etc., to begin with is an article of faith—never mind there being something more to them. You pose the great question, the only question, “What is real? How do you define real?” I want to stand up in my seat and applaud every time someone says this. But just on a simple point: the tonal ramps and perspective distortion on a computer screen or photographic print, the illusion of depth, etc., etc—from the very get-go, a photograph is a lie. From even before the get-go: no-one thinks that when they take a photo they are somehow stealing the things themselves away from the scene forever and putting them “in” the camera [though I find it profound that at the first emergence of photography, people, even educated people, did think a photo somehow stole something, maybe even a soul. I believe in a version of this intuition and hence refuse to roll up in a complete stranger’s face and take a photo. Manners also have something to do with it. But I won’t get into it here: I think I’ve embarrassed myself enough on this thread already!]. So no-one thinks it’s the things themselves we actually capture; we all know we are just making a counterfeit, a copy, a facsimile. And though it couldn’t be clearer that photo is about as far from “real” as it gets, this — “real” — is the yardstick [the frame in Larry’s parlance] that nearly everyone instinctively goes for when approaching one. Oh you used a flash!? Not real. Oh you did a street shot from 20ft away—not real. Etc., etc. But back to the print, a counterfeit of a counterfeit; and this before we’ve even had the argument about “photoshopping.”

            What’s real? Indeed…

            In my view, it’s worth being bolder and just getting straight to the point — as you do in the above question Ming — what is real full stop? What you and I see—where is the evidence that this is any representation of what’s real at all? I’m not just talking about the usual mock-profound hey, there’s a non-visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum. I’m questioning the very concept of the electromagnetic spectrum itself—who says that’s real? How do we show that? I dispute it all.
            Scientific theories are just models—completely man-made fabrications that serve the purpose of making things understandable to a mammalian brain. Fairies at the bottom of the Garden and The Special & General Theory of Relativity carry the same logical force and come from the same, the same, model generating tendency of humans, in my book. One is just more corroborated and therefore more sensible than the other. That is all. But both are fictions. Anyway, I question even the theories themselves: what is real, how do I show that? And when I do this, when I investigate, I run into inductive reasoning every time. I find no deductive logic anywhere in any of our physical models—save for the language used to communicate them [mathematics]. And I then note that science is unable to investigate its own language, those terms [mathematics]. There is divide here that no-one has yet figured out how to cross: between inductive and deductive reasoning. Mathematics is surefooted but utterly abstract. Science is never finished, never sure, never conclusive but self-evidently practical, useful and successful… The “real” is surely in some synthesis of these two domains. You know I disagree with Kant [and think it’s the easiest thing in the World to do away with the great great man’s core thesis] so I have my answer to questions of what is real [and where it’s found]. It happens that I agree with bishop Berkeley [in my own way] and John Archibald Wheeler. It’s all about perception-language-communication. Reality is cognitive-theoretic in nature. I’m probably mistaken, or my tastes will change and I’ll flip-flop one of these days. So be it. Good. What more human thing is there than self-contradiction, hypocrisy, umming and ahhing. I don’t see any thing bad or wrong with that at all. In fact I see them as part of the dynamic. Thesis-Antithesis-Synthesis [though Hegel never put it like that].

            Though my thinking is always penultimate at best, I have my idea of what “real” is. I can now return what’s real in a photo.

            My answer—>

            1) my faith in it
            2) whether I get it, or not

            P/S My sister, looking at some snaps I uploaded, asked me “what does this photo mean to you, Tom?” I refused to answer her. Partly because I’m a contrarian so-and-so 🙂 But mainly because I have my “one liner” theory. You just get what it means [if I’ve told the joke well], or you don’t—no explanations. [And on a related point, I think the whole apparatus of intellectualizing these things is just to create a smug bat with which to bash lesser people over the head with. All snake oil to me!] In the process of chatting to her, I had the thought—responses to photos, or what have you, can be mapped onto the vertices of a triangle. There are no meanings or interpretations or deep mumbo jumbo; there is only:

            i) like
            ii) don’t like
            iii) don’t know

            You can combine these—that’s the sides, the lines, of the triangle. You can have “like, but don’t know why,” “don’t like but don’t know why,” etc., yes, definitely you can have “like, don’t like” at the same time. Come on, we all know this feeling! And what more Hegelian response than that could there be!?
            I wanted to jump to the conclusion that the ultimate would be the center point of the figure. Slap bang in the middle of the triangle. But I stopped myself—I have no reason to make that conclusion, it’s just an impatient jump. When I investigate my own feelings and experience, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever had a sensation that would map to this position. I’m firmly of the opinion, now, that any and all of the possible positions are the best one.

            Does this make any sense to you?

            • A photograph is an image. We have faith that it’s a representation of reality in some way, but we also have faith – know – that it’s not exactly reality per se.

              I think that’s what it boils down to.

              We mostly lack the language to describe what we see/ feel/ interpret, so we use visual language to make up the gap. Mastery of that is not easy because whilst it’s intuitive, the techniques required – think of it as grammar and the physical act of writing or typing or whatever – is most certainly not. And that’s where the disconnect comes in with most images: they want to be representations of reality though the interpretation of an individual’s particular bias, but without the ability to communicate that bias in an immediately visual sense, something gets lost in translation most of the time.

              That said, I distinctly remember taking the ‘Blad out for a walk this morning and finding it much simpler than that…

              • Tom Liles says:

                We mostly lack the language to describe what we see/ feel/ interpret, so we use visual language to make up the gap. Mastery of that is not easy because whilst it’s intuitive, the techniques required – think of it as grammar and the physical act of writing or typing or whatever – is most certainly not. And that’s where the disconnect comes in with most images: they want to be representations of reality though the interpretation of an individual’s particular bias, but without the ability to communicate that bias in an immediately visual sense, something gets lost in translation most of the time.

                THIS! Yes, this. This this this.

                I’m convinced that:

                1) LANGUAGE
                2) COMMUNICATION

                are pivotal. PIVOTAL. I’m not smart enough to get any further, but I feel like you’re beginning to tease out, at the least clear up, these ideas Ming… And not just art. Science, mathematics, but especially science, rest on this. I think there is tons more mileage to be had from this language-communication approach [and all it implies] when it comes to reality, models, etc., etc.

                I agree with your first line and so include

                3) FAITH

                And finally:

                That said, I distinctly remember taking the ‘Blad out for a walk this morning and finding it much simpler than that…

                HIGH FIVE 🙂

                It’s like I’ve managed to transmit, for the first time ever, the way I feel about it to another person. You’re now close to my feelings on the whole thing, Ming. Though I can never know if you know…

                I just have to have faith (^_-)/

                • This entire discussion has made me acutely aware of the limitations of language in communication – I don’t even think a photo would save me here. All we can do is iterative: we try, we don’t get the response we were expecting, and we try again – both with images and words. Or we do get the response we were expecting and we build on that.

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    A word on language [just to qualify what I’m on about]:

                    1) the most general abstract system incorporating [abstractions of] space and time is a language
                    2) when I say “language” everyone thinks “English,” “Swedish,” “Mandarin,” what have you…
                    3) I mean that, but I also mean it in a more general way than that
                    4) mathematically, a formal language consists of three bits: i) a set of elements to be combined as strings, ii) a set of structural rules to govern their arrangement in space, and iii) a set of grammatical rules governing their transformation in time
                    5) Sounds like English, Swedish, Manadarin—but also like the physical theories you and I learnt an Uni, Ming
                    6) I do not think this is a coincidence [but from herein I’m only interested in the formal languages of physics, etc]
                    7) the last two bits of (4) together are Syntax
                    8) It follows that neural, cognitive-perceptual, and physical systems can be thought of as languages and the laws which govern them as their syntaxes…

                    On a subjective level, time itself can be abstractly thought of as the grammar of the joint language of cognition and perception [here’s where Kant and me come together again!]. Because time is defined in terms of transformations among spatial arrangements of objects, it’s conceptually linked with space. This is then part of a linguistic complex called space-time.

                    My theory goes on, etc, etc…

                    So, on my way of thinking, space-time [could I get anymore grandiose!] has more in common with a language than “a thing” [orthodoxly thought]. I generalize, I theorize, that information, language and communication is all there is…

                    This is not pie-in-the-sky. It is tangible—right there in front of your eyes right now. I believe in the same objects as all of you. Where I get strange [to most people] is that what you all call “objects” are mind-material complexes to me, and consist only in information and language [I studied these languages for 4 years at university]. And in fact the entire artifice of reality is information-language-communication [self-reflexive, self-computing inherent in it. The object and me are both the computer, the reality]. Objects and me must speak the same language [e.g., “physics,” for lack of a better word to describe the language] as “my” atoms can communicate with the atoms in the keyboard keys, and process an end result [which they both necessarily must share in] of a key being depressed…

                    Langauge is necessary for anything to happen.
                    Communication [speaking the same language and having a media to do so] is necessary for anything to happen.

                    Whether it’s the top-speed of an Aston Martin, the decay characteristics of Tritium, what I’m going to eat for dinner tonight, Ming’s next hobby or the contents of a photograph—without language and communication, none of it can be.

                    I can only poke, blindly, in blind faith that is!, at what I suppose is right. I don’t have the brains or talent to get much further—but I try. And enjoy the struggle. At this moment in the battle, all I can say is: I’m quite sure language and communication are what it’s all about. The whole thing.

                    I remain to be persuaded otherwise 🙂

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      In true l’epsrit de l’escalier fashion:


                      I’m quite sure language and communication are what it’s all resting on. The whole thing.

                      What’s it’s all about?

                      Love, I suppose 🙂

                    • Not 42?

                    • Sorry, maybe I wasn’t clear: by language, I meant descriptors and strings in a mathematical sense, not the tongue itself.

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Haha 😀

                      What did you think of the remake they did a few years back? I quite liked it, but NOTHING will ever beat the original telly series. Grew up [on reruns] of that.

                      Gotcha re: language. As always, you were a step ahead!

                    • I haven’t watched the remake, to be honest. I suppose it’d be just like how the new Star Treks make the old ones look very, very crude…

                      Language: Not really, less is more and all that.

              • Okay, enough straight lines to get back into the discussion. Like, “There’s more to reality than meets the eye.” And hence, the lens of a camera, the film/sensor . . . , photoshop . . . the printer . . . and then the paper. The eye and the lens can only offer their own limited perspective. Perspective? Oh yeah, you can change reality simply by abandoning a 50mm lens and going to a 300mm lens, or to a 24mm lens. And it’s hard to get used to a mountain that is now clearly too far away to be “real” anymore. But the brain is built to take in images and recompose them into something we recognize and readily accept. Every photo you take of someone, even from the back is technically different from each of the others. Again, that applies to looking at another person as well. And yet we can correctly identify a different image as the same “person” regardless of the angle, light, etc. If not, we would never be able to recognize one another from meeting to meeting. This phenomenon is exaggerated when we meet someone we last saw say 20 years ago. At first they look very very different. Then after a few minutes they seem much like the same person only older. Our vision of them actually changes as we speak to them. How can photographic image be any different; the same eyes and brain are being used.

                The first and last and only intro philosophy course I took chose “the existence of God” as the subject. It went through all the classic philosophers’ attempts to prove logically and with whatever evidence would apply that God exists and is real. Each one refuted the one before (rather easily) until the last one in the course was reached. We know that God exists on faith. End of the search. Depending on how God is defined, you could go so far as saying that faith and God are one and the same, along with other emotion/beliefs such as love. But alas, where’s the science of God? When social statistics (probability theory from gambling) was applied to the annual prediction and confirmation of number of births, deaths, marriages, it proved to be very reliable. The numbers hardly changed from year to year even though the people dying, marrying, etc. were never the same ones! Magic. This gave birth to modern actuarial science (insurance) because the predictions were so good (always on the average, not individual cases) that you could gamble and bet money on it (hence, life insurance). And accident insurance for merchant ships crossing the oceans with valuable cargo. So, someone realized that some of the ships carried religious groups to the new world. They prayed night and day for safe passage. Ah ha. The perfect natural experiment. Surely ships that carried so much prayer to God would have a lower rate of accidents than ships that did not. It would prove the efficacy of prayer to God and indirectly his existence. Alas, they found no statistically significant difference. So, either prayer does not really work, or they didn’t know the right prayers, or God didn’t listen, or God doesn’t respond to prayers. Other such attempts have been made I’m sure.

                Enter photography and literature, to the rescue. Sorry I cannot remember the photographer’s name (still working, however), but to paraphrase what he said about God, “I don’t believe in God, but whenever I see a beautiful tree I see proof that he exists.” Not that is both profound and funny at the same time. It happens to us all the time. In Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Kamarazoff (sp.) one asks his brother the priest how there can be a God when there are so many horrible and evil things in this world. He gives the usual, it’s for God to know not us, but then he says what stands for all time and all places, “When a baby smiles for the first time at his mother’s face, we know that God exists.” Strong version of the photographer’s tree, but the same proof. What else could it be? What seems unknowable to me, however, is what God is or would be or could be. Anyone who tries that is on shaky grounds. This is all related to photography, no? It records such events in life that can evoke the same feelings, beliefs, etc. The older I get the more often I smile every time I see a child of any age. The age is now approaching 20 and still rising. Beauty is everywhere and often breathtaking. So, when the old, dying patient asked the Buddhist now Rabi why he has to die now that he can see beauty in almost everything in the world, the Rabi said, “what better time to die than this?” [Cannot remember–look for the book written by the Jew who grew up in NYC and became a Buddhist monk in California, and then when he got older became a Rabi in NYC.] It goes without saying that I remember that statement every time I see a beautiful tree or beautiful . . .

                • Here’s a thought: the idea of something stays the same, but the image/ physical manifestation of it is instantaneous, influenced by many things, and merely transitory/ temporal. Hence our ability to recognize things in different forms, after the passing of time, etc. Pattern recognition of this sort is one of the most difficult challenges to a computer, because everything must follow a fixed set of defined rules: they don’t allow deviation at all.

                  Statistics is hokum: it doesn’t allow for outliers, black swans (I’m a big Taleb fan) etc. If you knew on average how an event was going to turn out, then you could just repeat it enough times until you got the outcome you want. Let’s take roulette as an example: there are probabilities for the ball landing on any given number. But what if the outcome of the spin is something else, say a loose wheel suddenly lets go and flies across the room, making the ball land in a punter’s cocktail? I’ll bet that wasn’t covered by any of the conventional modelling. The reason for this is because such mathematical/ scientific modelling covers only perfect systems, which doesn’t at all represent the real world. I used to do this for a living (and still do, for some things).

                  As for the existence of God: there are many ways we can infer that there must be a higher regulatory power/energy/being keeping things together and in obedience of empirical physical laws; lack of direct interference from prayer etc. doesn’t automatically preclude existence. It points more towards universal averaging of sorts and deus ex machina…

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Here’s a thought: the idea of something stays the same, but the image/ physical manifestation of it is instantaneous, influenced by many things, and merely transitory/ temporal.

                    This is just Platonism, no?

                  • The Amish do not allow prayers to God to ask for things. How dare human beings be so arrogant? Prayer is to give thanks for what God has given us. Even as a kid I could not quite bring myself that asking for something in a prayer would work. Santa Clause was always a better bet. Determinism was one of those assumptions/axioms that was undoubtedly required to develop Newtonian mechanics, which works in the real world. But it’s an idealization that overlooks the limitations of measurement. So, I once read a physicists explaining that if you lined up a cue stick to a billiard ball and controlled the force and direction to hit the cushion at a specific spot, it would then land or hit that spot. Theoretically. And the theory works. But you can only get the angle of the cue stick within a certain range of precision, same for the force, same for ignoring the effects of friction on the surface. So, it always lands within a plus or minus area on the intended point on the cushion given the lack of perfect measurement and delivery of the cue stick. The lower the error in the hit parameters, the lower the plus/minus error on the cushion target. Reality always adds what ultimately can only be interpreted as a chance or random factor no matter high precise you can improve the measures. If all the measures can become extremely precise, then theoretically (again from a different physicist) the random movement of molecules in the surface of the pool table would affect the outcome. 10 to the 26th particles per cubic space alone goes beyond any practical application of determinism. Meanwhile, the first physicist points out that the cue ball bounces off towards the other side of the table an the second cushion. Whatever error (gap from the mathematical target on the first cushion and where it hits) is multiplied so that the error on the second cushion is always greater. Meaning that the second predicted target is off a little more. Moreover, he adds, that by the 3rd or 4th cushion you can no longer make any good prediction where it would land! So, much for determinism in the real world, it’s an ideal state that helps one’s thinking theoretically.

                    Applied mathematics always has an error term do to measurement error and random perturbations, not all of which can be controlled by us. So, the real world is best described by the title of a book on the subject as “constrained probabilities.” Structure plus chance. On earth, an ideal temperature gives us three states, solid, liquid and gas. Colder and only solid. Hotter and only gas. Only gas, virtually random. The liquid temperature is the key to all life on earth, an in between very narrow band of temperature that allows for structure plus random elements. So, we have been lucky or blessed. The famous US baseball player summed this up accidentally when he said to someone complaining about the game: “If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.” Accidental? or the relevance of baseball and football (soccer)? If baseball or cricket were perfect, then every hit would be a home run, every pitch would be a strike, and every hit ball would be caught for an out. That’s three perfects that would make the game impossible, a paradox. There must be imperfection or error or randomness for the game to be played. Hitting averages are hard to get above 30% or 3 of 10 pitches. But here’s the real rub. If it dropped to 10% no one would play, too hard. If it rose to even 80%, too easy, no one would play. The averages all have to be around 30-40% to make it a “game” you would play. By game, I mean one in which personal skill and efficacy makes a difference: one’s own effort. It must be rewarded at some level or it would stop. Almost all games operate this way. If they were perfect, they wouldn’t be. So, the perfect world is imperfect! And that is the world we live in and the only world in which you would be able to live. Constraint plus chance. Have 6 kids and see what happens if you don’t believe that. Clone something and see how quickly it dies out. All my best photos relied on the usual skill with the camera, picking the right conditions for something to happen and then, as we all know, a huge boost from good luck or chance happenings. Be it a sunset, a portrait, or street photography. The lessons from science and nature seem hard to understand, esp. the mathematics, but they can be applied to the simple world in which we live.

                    • The disconnect here is that determinism, Newtonian mechanics et. al don’t take into account imprecision of execution and measurement. This is very much a quantum-scale effect which results in a probability distribution of a range of possible outcomes, but curiously I’ve never heard/ seen it thought of in this way before. Perhaps it’s not a perturbation term that’s required but a complete rework of QM that sees larger-scale effects happening, i.e. falling off with a more gentle/ macro-scale proportion to distance rather than a very abrupt 1/r^2 or 1/r^3.

                      There is of course no such thing as a perfect world…but we are in an environment where some things are binary regardless of the details (e.g. your computer typically works, or it doesn’t, your battery has sufficient charge or it doesn’t) and most are not (hitting the right spot on the cue ball – I sucked at pool, which I’m not sure speaks more about my lack of physical coordination or my ability as physicist). The mix is what keeps life interesting…

                  • Your reply to Tom, and the discussion, reminded me of two things. One was a recent exhibit by a “photographer” who just sat at a computer, and chose images from Google Street View, then printed those to put together an exhibit. That certainly put a question in the minds of some people about what it means to be a photographer, and what truly defines photography.

                    The second event dealt with perceptions. My niece once asked me to explain why the sky was blue. Both my brother and my mom stopped what they were doing in order to listen to my response. What I told my niece was that the sky was “blue” because a bunch of adults got together and decided to name that colour blue. 😉

                    • Tom Liles says:


                      There is slim to no chance you will see this, but thanks for all your thoughts and not the least this latest one! I’m glad I came for another look at the flowers again as I got to see your comment.
                      [We spoke about in the other Philosopher thread, but this flower image just sticks in the mind—for some of us:) Maybe it should have been on Ming’s print list?].

                      I love the first guy! You know what I think about photos, and therefore what photographers are really up to; and this guy sounds like a deft touch at comedy/entertainment/theatre = I like his idea.

                      Your second event reminds me of something:

                      Wittgenstein’s assistant says: yes, but you can see why they’d think the Sun went round the Earth…
                      Wittgenstein: Why?
                      Assistant: Because it looks that way
                      Wittgenstein: And how would it look if the Earth went round the Sun?

                      Ka-boom! These perceptual vantage points are everything, language is so entrenched in them as to be like a sponge held underneath the waterline—utterly saturated. Language [from the mathematic to the linguistic] is the fundamental building block in both our internal and external lives, so we see that it’s likely we’ll never escape the prison of it [if Kant, and Plato, were right and we really are mentally bound in some way]. For me language is the stuff of reality itself, and I don’t have the problems Kant and Plato had [I don’t have their intellects, either; but I know how to inexpertly borrow those of others!]

                      So while there is a scientific explanation of why the sky is blue, your joke for your niece was a nice way to do it, Gordon.
                      It answers a good question.

      • Tom Liles says:


        That we are having this discussion here at all is noteworthy: can you imagine a post like this on any other photography site?

        No, no way. It has been a PLEASURE Ming—and mostly because you are open-minded and interested host.
        Thank you for that and for bearing with wafflers like me. Well not like me—just me!

        At this rate, I should just post a question and let my readers write the article in the comments, gently steered as yours truly as editor


        Personally, I’d LOVE to read 500 words from lainer1—I’m only half joking.

        No, Ming. You’re the reason we come. Nobody does it better!

        • I’m personally enjoying the discussion: it’s really giving my brain a workout. I wonder how many others are following?

          • Well I’ve followed he discussion….. very interesting. I refrained from commenting as I felt as if I would be bringing a knife to a gun fight! I’m not well read enough or educated enough to hang…. But I enjoyed the perspectives. At the very least I am an unconventional thinker and I really appreciated Tom’s view or take on reality/life/science/philosophy/religion/ and on and on and on….. So far from the conventional circles that most of us are used to. To me it seems that the majority of society needs all their thoughts and beliefs wrapped up in neat easy to understand packages. Personally I’m ok with having more questions than answers. Or answers that in a minute, a day, or year could be completely rewritten. Just wanted to say thank Ming and Tom! A very interesting discussion that has opened new avenues of thought that one would never expect to find on a photography site (well per perhaps one….) Thanks Ming!

            • No weapons required, just a little logic and an opinion. 🙂 We’re all here to learn.

              It’s consumerism, I tell you: Digital overtook film in the early days before sufficiency not because of quality or feedback, but because consumers were lazy. Why bother with lab developing and scanning when you can just instantly download? Philosophy, the meaning of life, everything…is the same: instant gratification for the short attention span and intellectually non-curious. Why bother to spend time researching something when you can ask Google the answer? Or chase the root cause of the deep niggling unseated feeling inside when you can just proxy success and happiness by money? Hell, why read a review when you can email the writer directly and ask ‘what do you think?’ 😉

              I think you get the point: you have to want to take the journey before you come up with the right questions to give you the answers you are looking for (there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ there; only relative truths).

              Then again, what do I know…I am the kind of person who develops and scans each roll of 120 individually. By hand. Personally. 😛

              • “It’s consumerism, I tell you.” Yes I agree but I think it’s more than that (I’m sure that you do as well.) For lack of a better term I find the much of society (at least the portion wrapped up in consumerism) is in a state of institutionalization. Perhaps we could even call it a form of the Matrix? The system that we have been presented provides us will all we think we need and the majority accepts, no questions asked, or at least not meaningful questions. It’s all laid out there for the masses, what to think (or not to think), what to buy, what art is, and all aspects of life. With all this provided the laziness you spoke of comes to be. No need to seek answers when then are conveniently packaged via the television, the main stream media, and as you mentioned, Google. No need to critical think, the systems has experts for that. You many think, but please keep it with in the confines of the box the experts have provided. This is where the institutionalization comes into play….. the blue pill or the red pill if you will….. I feel that the vast majority is content with what they are provided. Given the choice of red or blue, the majority they will choose blue, they have to, hence the institutionalization. The emails asking “What camera should I buy?” are a byproduct of this. As frustrating as that may be for you, it is also sad that it has come to that. In response to:

                I think you get the point: you have to want to take the journey before you come up with the right questions to give you the answers you are looking for (there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ there; only relative truths)

                Yes, the journey, you have to want this and be open to all possibilities. As far as answers go….. I’m not sure I ever find those answers, only more questions! So the journey continues!

                A parting thought…… Have you ever considered that is a glitch in the photography Matrix of the internet?!! An anomaly that gives a few of us who have swallowed a red pill some hope……

                • The more I look at society today, the more I think the Wachowski Brothers were really on to something. There’s absolutely nothing in the way the Matrix was presented that couldn’t be true. You’re right: most of us are told what to do/ expect/ want, and not to question it. Questioning it naturally brings some degree of separation/ ostracization from society. Hence, most don’t question. Most don’t want to know why badly enough to ask or to risk not fitting in. Some of us – me, for instance – have never fit in anyway because of my background, so we ask because we don’t know any better. is an extension of that, but I’m certainly not Neo. Can’t fly the last time I checked (still sitting in traffic like the rest).

                  • I agree. The Wachowski Brothers did indeed have something. Perhaps it’s just my over active imagination or over zealous interpretation of the movie, but I have convinced myself that the Matrix does in fact exist in our world…. Only not in the context that the movie presented. Do I believe that we are plugged into the machine in the manner the movie presented? No. In my version of the Matrix exsists in the control of the masses perception and/or their consciousness through the means of multimedia and television. Think about it….. The bulk of the population is molded and shaped into a system of beliefs due to their exposer to television and the internet. Their version of reality, their truths, their beliefs are streamed through these mediums, and they are taken at face value, as absolutes, no questions asked! As all of this information is presented, and absorbed it alters the consciousness of society. It trades truths for half truths or even out right lies for the sole purpose of altering the view of the masses so that their thoughts and beliefs fall inline with what the system requires. If this is not the Matrix I don’t know what is. The Matrix is control. In the movie this control was the machine, in our world this control comes in the form of supplied information, or misinformation, and imagery. Critical thinking has no place in this reality, and yes there is separation and ostracization. I have felt this as well. I don’t pretend to be able fully relate to your feelings, but I can understand the feeling of not fitting in. It gets lonely. I think I have blabbered enough about my hair brained version of the Matrix……. In regards to my suggesting you were Neo…. perhaps only in jest, but I wouldn’t hesitate taking it as a compliment either! You do some amazing things. This site being one example! That’s all for now…

                    • Tom Liles says:

                      Jeff, John Carpenter film: THEY LIVE… highly recommend it.

                      [Starring Rowdy Roddy Piper—worth the price of admission alone!]

                      Brilliant comment. Enjoyed reading it and sorry for the interruption!

                    • It goes beyond television and internet: all the conspiracy theories cite a core group of people in control of subverting and manipulating the masses to keep them docile and manipulable…heaven forbid, what would happen to our politicians if the people actually started thinking for themselves, and realized they weren’t that limited or stupid after all?

                      Yes, the Matrix is control. Undoubtedly. And the moment one tries to break conventional control, you face all sorts of challenges, opposition, and are only allowed to succeed if the gatekeepers – whoever they may be – deem you worthy. It’s a little problematic especially if going against the trend is the only way you know how to do something, and it’s ingrained to the point that doing anything else is painful. We fight…because we have to, and doing otherwise would be denying self.

            • Tom Liles says:

              Thank you for those kind words Jeff C.

              It’s obvious that I’m not so good at brevity [on]. On yet another aside — without further ado! 🙂 — I write a lot at work so I know, firsthand, shorter takes longer. Here I just rattle off comments, look quickly for if anything’s obviously incorrect [like this piece of grammar just now!], then post. I don’t have time to do better. But, I’d also hope it’s obvious that there’s nothing special about me.

              John Huston said you don’t need university you just need to be curious. Einstein said he asked simple questions—just children’s questions. I’m curious. I’m on the intellectual level of a minor.

              Here’s one for you Jeff… I’ve come to think the Whole Thing(c) can be summed up:

              This is it! Is this it?

              • Tom

                A least you understand grammar! Between spelling and grammar I’m at a major disadvantage on the communication front (spell check may be the only reason any of my posts make any sense at all!)

                I’m curious as well, and no you don’t need university, it’s just that ones own ego gets in the way at times. Ego does not want you to feel small and insignificant even if in truth that is all I, you, we really are. I try to shed the ego, but it always appears from time to time!

                You said “But, I’d also hope it’s obvious that there’s nothing special about me.” Seeing as famous quotes are flying about I’m going to throw one out there…. It may not be completely applicable to your statement but what the hell?!!

                “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it.”
                -Mahatma Gandhi

                THIS IS IT! IS THIS IT? I’m gonna take that for a spin….

                • Here’s another one: “What I learned at university has been completely of no use to me whatsoever in any of my occupations. But how I learned it, that’s quite another matter.”

                  • Tom Liles says:

                    Who said that one, Ming?

                    Here’s one:

                    “The word ‘education’ comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.”

                    — Miss Jean Brodie
                    [the title character of: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie]

                    • Me.

                      That’s a good one re. education. Seems to happen less and less in the modern world though, most schooling systems teach pupils to follow orders and regurgitate on command to pass exams: not really how to think. I can’t help but feel the divide between the real world and the school world is growing. I used to head Asia-Pacific M&A for a company that operated a vast fleet (60+) private tertiary institutions. I couldn’t find anybody suitable to hire from my own graduate pool: this says a lot, I think.

                • Tom Liles says:

                  Morning Jeff, morning Ming 🙂

                  This is great isn’t it—dialog. Well I enjoy it anyway. Just like the main character in one of my favorite pieces of writing, a short book by Don DeLilo called The Day Room. Brilliant work. Don’t go out and buy it, just log that title in the memory banks; someday, long from now, it might pop up in front of your eyes—that day you can point your finger and go “Ah!”

                  I’d recommend a casual stroll through English grammar to anyone. Make the time, do it. The human modes of thought are right there wrapped up in the rules. Theories of cause and effect, space and time. True story. And in no way secret. Reading something by Stephen Pinker might be a good introduction to all this [a more fun first time read than Strunk, Jr. & White].
                  I was AWFUL at spelling, grammar, all of it. Completely let down by my country’s education system. I left high school at 18 with zilcho knowledge of the rules of my own tongue. Unforgivable really [that they didn’t even attempt to teach it]. My university lecturers were all well-schooled men who had been taught this kind of thing when they were young, made to remember it; and even though we were studying the applied sciences and interested only in furthering our engineering knowledge, the lecturers would mark down anyone who made spelling and grammar mistakes in submissions [even if the scientific content was flawless]. Truth be told, you didn’t need to master the language to get past them, all they’d catch were the basic mistakes. But it was a good start. Like you, Ming, and many others, I’m a curious person, Jeff. Once on that track, I wasn’t satisfied with just the minimum necessary and just the rule—I wanted to know the interior, the back, the lot; how to manipulate the rules, who says a split-infinitive is bad? why? etc. This casual interest has landed me in the job I’m in now. I should be wearing a suit — a boiler suit or a tailored one — working for a big tech company in some non-descript corporate filing cabinet in the CBD or on a plant somewhere. I should be overweight, driving an Audi, having barbecues on the weekend and worrying about wallpaper. I am overweight [since last Christmas], I worry about almost everything, but not wallpaper because it’s not a factor in Japanese domestic life; but I don’t live the regular life I was on track for. And I don’t have an Audi—I’d take an R8 if you were offering one for free though 🙂 Learning the rules of grammar [still a work in progress] , learning to apply them correctly [still a work in progress] and forming opinions of them [still a work in progress] became a serious pursuit of mine ever after becoming only “casually interested”; I ended up knowing these rules better than those around me. Ended up that I could correct other people’s work [though not so hot with my own; I think all photogs can relate!]. Ended up that people would even pay me to do it!

                  Here I am today, sitting in a bright white humming halogen office in Tokyo, with a ream of copy-editing and a couple of ad slogans to pen.
                  [It’s not glamorous work.]

                  I’m close to T.S Eliot’s point of return, that Gordon kindly equipped us with, earlier. I’m converging on the very ground I started out from; I’m drawn to mistaken, muddled, messy grammar. I’m starting to think this is the best literary expression there is. I don’t want to jettison every single thing I’ve learned and just write a line like the 18 year old me would’ve done; though from the outside, this is exactly what it’d look like. The reason I don’t want to jettison the learning is that it’d be what Hegel called “retrograde irony.” A step back, but from a position of knowing that it’s a step back. You can’t have the same experience again. No, I want the step back that is actually a step forward. To transcend all the rules—this is the same as not using or needing them, but also using and needing them to make that possible at all. This makes absolutely no sense. I know 😀

                  Nice Ghandi quote. Thank you for that. I’d bend it, pen it as Dan Wieden did: <bJust Do It 🙂

                  Some of the more interesting 20th and 21st century philosophies have been encapsulated in the winking one-liners of advertising. My favorite copy of all time, a line supreme, penned by a man supreme, the best that there ever has been is:

                  The Real Thing


                  You were talking THE MATRIX with Ming. Perhaps this presses the right buttons?

                  Ming> I remember I once arrived at a flaw in THE MATRIX’s reasoning—one thing that destroyed the internal logic of the story. It was to do with the birds. AND I CAN’T FOR THE LIFE OF ME REMEMBER WHAT IT WAS. It will probably pop into my head 8 months from now when I’m choosing a chocolate bar in the convenience store, or something, so ALL READERS OF BLOG.MINGTHEIN.COM ON STANDBY for that great day 🙂

                  OK, that’s my coffee gone [my version of the hourglass].

                  [[This comment, and my coffee didn’t take me an hour let me hastily jam in!]]

                  • I’m waiting for that day 🙂

                  • Tom

                    Good morning, good afternoon, good evening or what ever it may be! Closing in on 1:30am for me on my little spot on the globe. This has been great, my only regret has been that I was so reluctant to jump into the fray! The thing that I have noticed about this environment is how open it is. So unlike so much of the rest of the great wide internet. Very little negative energy. I still feel outmatched, but rather like the challenge and lessons. Interesting comments on grammar. I have always written it off as some thing that I suck at. Apparently it is one area where I will have to attempt to suck less!! Along with my photography….. and a long list of other things. So Ming and I are starting to draw you into our discussion of the first Matrix movie. I admit you have piqued my curiosity as to how the birds have altered your view. I’ll be waiting with Ming (and a glass of bourbon in hand) for that explanation!!

                    • I think they lost the plot a bit with Returns and Revolution, but the idea was spot on in the first one. Here’s a more interesting question though – and one raised by Cipher when he betrays Neo – is there anything inherently wrong with preferring to be in the matrix? Ignorance is bliss and all that? The more I think about it…the more I see that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing: both because of what you might think you can do with it, and because once you watched it…you can’t un-watch it (paraphrasing Futurama, which is my preferred version of the future).

          • I’ll just add one more comment about error, but apply it to photography rather than pool. Supposedly, most of the bombs dropped from planes in WWII missed by over 2-3 football fields at best. This was applying the best of physics, engineering (reduced friction), and navigation (wind speed and direction, altitude, etc.). Too many variables and measures still too poor and probably not dynamic enough (changing rapidly enough over time). Perhaps even poor measurement of time by today’s standard. The whole approach was limited almost by definition; the problems could be reduced but never eliminated. Enter smart bombs, ones that could navigate and rapidly calculate distance and time from targets entered into computers. The gap (error) could be measured as the bomb/rockets were fired until impact with the target, constantly reducing the error gap as they approached. Severely reduced error rate that only improved more with GPS down to meters. Smart bombs are not limited to physics and engineering, but can make use of information technology and cybernetics. Jump forward to pre-electronic cameras with manual focusing for a comparison. Errors that were tolerable but could not be reduced further without IT and computer calculations: hence the modern digital camera with continual focusing until the shutter is open, and opened at very high speeds accurately calculated and controlled, along with light exposure, etc. We all know the drill by now and often long for the simple set of 3-4 variables controlled manually with one’s eyes and own head. But accurate? Wow. Number of misses negligible. Image, of course, still dependent on what the photographer does. In short, high level of measurement, rapid response in real time, and on-board computers and advanced programming. Without even getting into color correction. At what cost. My 1969 Pentax with thru the lens metering and manual focusing cost about $300 duty free in Panama. At todays prices that would convert to about $2,000. Let’s say the price of a new Nikon SLR digital camera without lenses. Okay in 1969 they gave you a standard 50mm lens and leather case! But compare the differences with what you got in 1969 with the advanced technology that a new Nikon delivers at roughly the same price. Not to mention computer aided lens design and construction. So, we’ve drifted from the original question of philosophy and photography, but I’ve learned a lot along the way and have made many new connections that I had not seen before. Thanks for starting the thread.

            • Modern technology has just shifted that error from the human onto the hardware: for us to have super-accurate metering and focus etc we need chips that have to be error free to the order of nanometers; if your IC gates don’t line up, you get nothing workable at all. But previously we could just push/pull the film by a stop in developing or printing if you were out. That said, I find that anything at the bleeding edge requires precision everywhere – a little slop here and there starts to add up very quickly. Imagine a complex, 15+ element lens design where each of the elements is just slightly misaligned – you could land up with a finished product that miraculously self-averages, canceling individual errors, or you could have something so decentered it’s unusable. I’m experimenting with MF digital now, and it’s frightening how much exposure precision that requires for optimal results – I had no idea I’d gotten that sloppy with my smaller sensor stuff…blame that on one of the priorities being making it forgiving for the masses.

  9. I think it’s a bit tricky to speak generally of “philosophy” and “photography” when there are so many subdivisions or types within each field/category. It’s a mistake to say that philosophers can say whatever they want and imply photographers can do the same thing. IIt’s useful to remember that philosophers argue or postulate from first principles or axioms (in science). These initial statements are taken as given or self-evident, not in need of any evidence. Statements are derived from them and cannot deviate beyond the constraints that are imposed. Otherwise sheer nonsense follows. In particular, there are rules of logic that are used to derive new statements from what is given or assumed.
    So, with photography one of the key rules for certain types of photos is “no manipulation of the image in photoshop beyond cropping, dodging and burning, contrast, etc. Minor changes that preserve the image. If these are done and/or greater manipulations occur there’s a rule that says you must be honest and publicly declare exactly what you did. Time magazine recently put three figures on it’s cover after removing several others in the background. The other people completely changed the interpretation of the photo. Not sure if they said so on the inside or not, but they were criticized for doing it at all. Something similar was done with an O.J. Simpson photo a long time ago, made him look like a criminal. So, photography is constrained by initial assumption or rules that are mutually shared. You can drop this rule and create another type that allows any kind of manipulation to create a subjective object of art, beautiful, ugly, whatever. But you cannot pretend it’s something else. One useful concept to use with philosophy and photography would be “frame” or “framing.” Congress is struggling now (actually always) to get 3 recent events framed as “scandals” rather than events or stories that simply involve mistakes or incompetence. Which frame is advocated and then accepted goes a long way in determining how each fact or picture is interpreted and what it implies. With photo journalism, one tof the key frames is “story” or “narrative,” a sequence of events (real or imaginary) that goes from A to B to C, and may imply A causes B which leads to C, with drama–protagonists and antagonists–and assumed direction and outcomes. A single photo or series of photos presumably has captured or sampled some of the many instances along this sequence. Note, it doesn’t have to be real at all. It can be imagined or implies or stated as a fact within which the photo is interpreted. So, “story” is just one type of frame or framing in which the photo is to be “read.” Now try that with landscape photography, street photography, flower photography, macro photography of bugs, etc. Each one should have its own assumptions, constraints, frames which, if violated to much, would negate the photo itself. A bit long and complex, but a nice way to approach any art or science.

    • Very true, Larry. I didn’t go into that level of detail because as you say, it varies by topic/ concept and there are different levels of ‘acceptable’. However, I still think both photography and philosophy have something in common: they are interpretations of an empirical observation, which even if you’re creating the scene/ set in a photograph, is still limited by the physical objects you can put in. Too much postprocessing work and it becomes digital illustration.

      On a tangential note, it’s curious that conscious exclusion of elements from a frame is one thing, DI removal is another – but the end impact is much the same…the mistake the public makes is thinking photography is an objective medium – the camera sees it therefore it must be complete and true – which is clearly NOT the case, otherwise every photograph of a given scene would look very similar indeed…

      • When you say that the two have in common that “they are interpretations of empirical observation,” it sounds like you are referring to science rather than philosophy. Philosophers have spent much time trying to deduce the existence of God, but they cannot really rely on empirical evidence just logical argument, which in my experience always goes around in circles. Science is grounded in empirical evidence via measurement of some kind, from inches and nanoseconds to traces in the bubble chamber of a particle accelerator. Okay, theoretical physics does not, but it starts on an empirical basis of some kind and must still be tested empirically by experimental physicists. Einstein worked in pictures and thought experiments, but almost every test from light deflection by gravity to black holes have confirmed his thinking. But here is one connection you’re expressing: there’s more than one type of measure that can be used and will be used, each giving a somewhat different answer. Move the tripod, change the light or angle on the person’s face, allow the man walking his dog into the frame and the photo and interpretation changes. In science, at some point the measures (alternative experiments on the same theory) have to start converging on a commonly accepted statement of the theory, usually mathematical. Okay, science uses photography! Took me a while to get there. I just saw that the virtually impossible “camera” used to photograph collisions at the Bern accelerator were designed and operated by physicists from MIT, not from Europe. Its a collective endeavor. Some kind of camera that can capture almost invisible subatomic particles traveling near the speed of light and for almost no time duration. Is the image reality? Hardly. It’s an image of a collision that the eye cannot possibly see . . . but I suppose you could correctly conclude that the image itself has its own reality. It exists and can be seen and interpreted by computers and used to confirm or reject competing theories of subatomic “reality,” the ultimate particle. Or rather consequences of that particle’s existence if it it bombarded by another (proton?) particle traveling near the speed of the light. No one suggests that this subatomic world doesn’t exist, especially when we create via actions and measure/see via photographic images. So, here we are back to photography and science, literally not in some philosophical sense. But remember physics is descended from “natural philosophy.” Parenthetically, the first test of Einstein’s theory of gravity was confirmed by taking photographs in 1919 of a solar eclipse. Stars were photographed the night before in the exact location of the coming eclipse and then again when the light from the sun was blocked out by the lunar eclipse. Some twelve stars around the sun appeared on the (glass) photo plate at night and then again during the day. The two plates were rotated in the lab later to line them up as perfectly as possible. If the dots (hey not the actual stars, just the dots on the photo plates!) lined up exactly the same, then no effect of the gravity of the sun as they passed nearby. But alas there was a small gap for each star; the closer to the star the larger the gap as predicted. In fact, the gap projected at the edge of the sun corresponded more closely to Einstein’s new relativity theory that postulated the curvature of space around the mass of an object than what was predicted by Newton’s theory of gravity. The reality of a curved space predicted by the theory is required to correctly match the empirical reality of the . . . hmmm, two photographs. You can find this in wikipedia with google under Einstein’s gravitational deflection of light. There must be many many other example of photography being used for science. To complete the circle, I first came across this experiment in a book on the philosophy of science. So, when I said there were many types of philosophy, one (epistemology) addresses the issue of how to we know what we know rather than what is. In this discussion we’re mixing the two: what is reality and how can we know it. Some are suggesting that it cannot be known, but that would negate all the progress of modern science and most of the modern world we live in as a result, including I hate to say, global warming.

        So, a lighter note on reality. Someone asked Picasso at a cocktail party why he didn’t paint things as they really are, like photos do. Picasso asked the guy if he was married and if so, if he had a photo of his wife. Of course, he said, and pulled a photo out of his wallet to show him. Picasso merely asked what it was like to be married such a small person! (Let’s say only one inch high.) Finally, literature also has addressed the phenomenon of multiple viewpoints of the same reality. The Alexandrian Quartet consists of 4 novels about Alexandria, Egypt, each one from the point of view of one of the four main characters. There are other examples. Reminds me of my attempt in Paris a while back to take a photo of the Eiffel Tower that no one else has ever taken. I told a group in Peru that my goal was to do the same thing at Machu Pichu (horrible spelling). Everyone just laughed at me. I came within inches (angle of view) of photographing a bird high above the ruins with what would have been a slightly out of focus ruins in the background. By inches, I mean the bird landed just short of where he need to be, so wrong background . . . by inches. The bird flew away after one 1/100 second of one photo. Probably wrong f stop as well. Failure in photography is still fun. Two of the eclipses in 1919 failed (weather) and only a couple of plates from the one that worked.

        Photography was used all the way up to 1972 when it was replaced by radio telescopes that could use large masses anywhere in the universe and get results with great precision. Einstein’s mathematical prediction was within (say) 1.750000000000000000 . . . etc. of his 1.75 coefficient. And yet, there’s still work to get it more precisely. [Sorry for the length, but I’m full of a lot of this stuff. Make what you will of it for photography today.]

        • Tom Liles says:


          …just logical argument, which in my experience always goes around in circles

          This, in my book, is actually THE most powerful logical function ever discovered [if “discovered” is the right word]—the tautology. The entire artifice of mathematics stands on it. The simple example: 2+2=4.

          This is a tautology. It goes around in a circle.

          It is self-relfexive. It is a self-reflexive truth. Self-contained, water tight, flawless logic.

          Going around in circles is the apex, not the nadir.

          • 23 + 3 = 2 ………. in a 24 hour system this is a truth. It is easy to imagine similar systems.
            That is mathematics. It needs a frame of definitions.

            • True, most of the time we assume base 10 and linearity as opposed to base 24 and cyclicality…

            • Tom Liles says:

              Hi Thomas,

              It needs a frame of definitions

              Yes. These are axioms. There are problems with that: the Lowenehim-Skolem theory is the biggest inspection of those that I’ve ever seen [though it is COMPLEX and I can only understand the tinniest fraction of it].

              We were talking about colorspaces the other day—“FF” is 255 when your base is 16. “00100011” is my age as an 8 bit binary number [base 2, of course]. The number schemes don’t matter to my point, it was about tautological systems. Though you are absolutely right that the framework the numbers exist in matters. So we define a framework, but doing this in any orthodox way invites infinite regress [bringing in a frame from outside… so what’s the frame for the frame? what’s the frame for the frame for the frame?]. My point is that self-reflexive systems, tautology, by definition, are the only ones that can escape this and therefore the only possible answer. QED.

              FF = FF (tautology)

              4 = 4 = 2+2

              self reflexive.

              You work your way through, down: even if a self-reflexive system is obviously the only way for anything to be possible, it needs its first term, the kernel from which it can build its entire language, i.e., logic. I have come to the conclusion that this first term, the most basic unit possible, can only be a kind of ontological statement term, called “real”

              1) Self-reflexive logic
              2) First term is “real”

              The question immediately presents itself—what is “real”?
              [the system interrogates itself: real or not real?]

              Welcome to the entire point of the universe, what it is doing, all, everything, the lot. The ongoing, dynamic, looped calculation of “what is real?”

              There is no answer outside of the system.

            • Tom Liles says:

              One more thing Thomas: your site is GREAT!

              I’d actually clicked through before today, but felt shy about telling you [and others who link to their pictures] that I thought so. Anyway, here’s my chance… so => I like your pictures! m(. .)m

              The shots from inside the car do it for me [I can’t really navigate my through to anything else: browser issue? I’m on safari 6.0.4, OSX 10.7.5] I once saw an image, when I was 15 or so, that is seared into my mind’s eye; similar to what you did there but from the opposite viewpoint. It wasn’t a still, it was a video. Snowy scene, middle of nowhere. A car with the engine running, headlights on—just pointed straight at the viewer, maybe 7m away. The car runs, the lights stare… it’s slightly dark, not sundown but certainly past 3pm [or maybe it was early morning? I don’t know]. The driver side door of the car is open. I can’t remember how long the video was—maybe just a few tens of seconds, if that.

              Will stay with me to the grave.

        • Tom Liles says:

          Lovely posts, by the way Larry. Thanks for them!

        • When I was at Oxford, there was an interesting course called ‘Physics and Philosophy’ – it made no sense to me at first, but the more I thought about it, actually, the more logical it seemed. I think Tom encapsulated it well in his comments on faith: Philosophy is an attempt to explain something; observed/ empirical or theoretical. Science is an attempt to quantify and investigate the same something. In effect, different sides of the same coin. Photography can be the same: we can be trying to make a measurable record of something – particle tracks, optical distortions due to gravity, a crime scene – or it can be an interpretative record of something – the feeling of love, for instance. Both types of photography require the same fundamental building blocks to achieve – a light-sensitive medium, and a means of controlling exposure/ field of view that’s recorded. Science and philosophy too rely on the building blocks of logic – well, everything except for quantum mechanics…

          I’m really, really enjoying this discussion even though it’s making my head hurt. I don’t think my brain has had such a workout for many years. 🙂

  10. Kristian Wannebo says:

    Thus ends a play by Tove Jansson:

    – – –
    Det är mera än låtsas och leka
    för du kan vara alldeles viss
    om att vanliga rosor är bleka
    mot en handmålad rosenkuliss.

    – – –
    This is more than pretending and playing
    because you can be really assured
    that real roses pale
    against handpainted roses on the stage.

    Our Human Nature –
    It enhances
    and messes up
    the work of both photographers and philosophers…

    But otherwise
    life would be rather boring…

    * * *

    Ming certainly presents an interesting thought.

    Art (even music), and photography which is also an art, can certainly convey understanding just as philosophy can, only the means (and the audiences) are different.
    In a “good” piece of art I find much more than a one-liner (although I can agree to regard Mona Lisa as such – 🙂 ).

    ( And we shouldn’t forget mythology (and fairy tales) which can bring understanding to topics out of reach of philosophy and science but within the grasp of art. )

    Even philosophers have to be a bit poetic for their interpretation to really say something (and I don’t deny that there is a lot of good philosophy).

    But philosophers so easily get entangled in a maze of their own words without noticing it (some do it intensionally, philosophical compositing).
    ( Someone said, that when language was created there were a lot of superfluos words … and so philosophy emerged. Schopenhauer somewhere in Parerga et Paralipomena happily and thoroughly criticizes all those philosophers who take logic and language beyond their means.)

    And, of course, there is a lot of “bad” art too, not only the composited.

    As Ming hints, philosophy (as well as art, especially film and to a lesser extent music – although it is used to emphasize) have been – and are – used to build great lies and misunderstandings.
    But I think a photographic lie is more easily debunked, perhaps as hard to uncover but easier to explain to the public.

    * * *

    This modern trend of philosophy cafes is an interesting development.
    A good photographic (or art) book or exhibition can, I believe, accomplish even better results of understanding.

    Now suppose that participants in a philosophy cafe were expected to bring their own photos relevant to the theme in question.
    ( This would, at the beginning at least, limit the choice of theme.)
    It could widely expand the realm discussed.
    And quite possibly deepen the discussion.
    And it could bring the rather different audiences together.
    Especially if the moderator was also a photographer…

    As for one-liners, 🙂 ,
    “Sum, ergo sum”, said the bee.
    I find this much more accurate and truthful than Descarte’s wording.

    • Bad art and bad photographs also raise questions, but perhaps not fundamental ones.

      I just had another thought – a good movie raises questions and makes a story/ parable understandable; it’s art too, and photography (cinematography, at any rate). There’s music, there’s artifice, and above all, there’s an underlying level of control of the whole thing. Some of the really good ones make you wonder how much is fiction and how much is truth – the first Matrix movie was like that for me. Great cinematography, too.

    • Michael Matthews says:

      “Sum, ergo sum”? I think Popeye said much the same thing: “I yam what I yam”.

    • Tom Liles says:


      I wanted to reply to you since the day before yesterday, but I’d said that I would step off the merry-go-round, so I held back.

      Not many brave souls to dip their feet in the water on this topic [though why ever not! Isn’t philosophy was the most democratic of pursuits? We all have a brainbox, we all privately think up our theories, beliefs. Just say them! Fortune favors the bold, etc. Alas…] so anyway, there’s only Ming, me and Larry here, we have the place to ourselves, I’m on my tea break—why not!

      Hope you don’t mind the interjection 🙂

      The Tove Jansson line—is he saying that his dramatic creations are more real than the “real” things they model [I use the word “model” carefully; but not scientifically—it is a nod to French cinematographer Robert Bresson. I linked to a book of ideas he wrote, in one of my posts below. Mr Bresson insisted that words like “mimic” or “act” should never be used, always model. I don’t know whether he was right or not, but I like his cover photo so I trust Mr Bresson. I’m not joking there by the way!]

      Our Human Nature –
      It enhances
      and messes up

      Mmm. I think I agree with this. It all depends on the intent in “and”: enhances and messes up means that by enhancing we have, actually, messed it up—that’s my view, anyway.
      I have this feeling that I know something, that it really is something, but the moment I begin to explain or expand it, etc., I begin destroying it. Just like when you edit a JPEG. I might be wrong, we might start with the ideological equivalent of RAW data and when we explain, it’s like the non-destructive editing in PS, etc. And what we’re actually doing to the image itself is more like what a sculptor does to a brute lump of stone… A nice anecdote: an admirer asks the sculptor, how do you do it!?. Sculptor answers, well, I chip rock away until it looks right, then I stop. Please add that one to the pile: T.S Eliot, Bach, your Bee…

      But I don’t think explaining the ideas adds or improves anything.

      When I try to explain, it does feel like I’m doing violence to the idea, degrading it, taking power away rather than adding it. I’ve never had an experience other than this. Perhaps it’s just the limitations of my spoken, and written, language? But this is why I’m wedded to the “no explanations” school of thought. You just get it or you don’t.
      Of course, mine is a wildly unbalanced and impractical point of view. To get all my ideas, I’ve had to read those of others—their explanations. I appreciate this hypocrisy in my logic. I don’t know how to deal with it. But I do know I like and don’t want to give up my view. I think it has truth in it.

      photos relevant to the theme in question… could widely expand the realm discussed

      Mmm: agree. We all should. We all know the phrase: a picture paints a thousand words? And not just know it, we’ve experienced first hand this truth. I think this is the visual language that Ming and others talk about. It’s also what I’m getting at, I think, with “one liners” and no explanations. The visual language is final in itself—trying to translate into our language is a poor replica and only degrades the thought/feeling/concept/thing-that-can’t-be-named.

      Just on a day to day level—I definitely get this. I have to create advertising slogans for a living [note my catty resentment in “have to” there. Haha]. To sell the word I’ve wrote, I often find it MUCH MUCH quicker to find an image that more-or-less expresses what I was after. And this, usually without fail, satisfies customers, my bosses, etc. Typically the image is just the advertising itself; or it is when it’s a well planned and well done job.

      much more accurate and truthful than Descarte’s wording

      Haha. Sum, ergo sum was a good one. I’m dead against what Descartes did to our thinking; though I’m in awe of the man himself, and his process toward making the Cogito. Descrates actually betrays the narcissistic element of philosophy [that all I need is me]. A doctor couldn’t gain his learning by practicing on himself; nor a car mechanic. In fact almost every profession there is requires some object outside of ourselves in order to be possible. Yet philosophy often [and mathematics always] requires only the thinker [depending on the kind of project involved, obviously]. I’ve always been cautious of philosophy for this reason. Though that isn’t the same as “skeptical of it.”
      But yes, Descartes’ postulate has been deeply divisive [pun intended!] and greatly destructive. All around unhelpful. And it has stuck—we still deal with it today. Even with the measurement problem of Quantum Mechanics right there for all to see; we moderns are unable to break down and just admit: perhaps things are mental-material in nature, not just mental, or material.

      Really. Doing this is like heresy of the highest order. And I can’t understand at all why!

      [Mental is an anthropocentric word and I don’t want you to read too much into it. In my view atoms, etc., have a “mind” of sorts—they can transduce and transmit information, that’s photons describing spin states, position, yada, yada… and therefore communicate information between themselves/ourselves/the universe itself. Anyway, this is my “mental” dimension, when I say “mental-material in nature” think this, don’t think yogis making spoons bend—though I’m 100% down with yogis making spoons bend and don’t think it should be treated as prima-facie farcical.]

      And all this said and done—I still like Descartes. What a mathematician. A giant. It’s an insult that a layman like me even mentions his name…

      My tea break’s over! 🙂

  11. Dennis Ng says:

    Philosophy is more about challenge and questions. At least the western one e.g. Socrates questions, Kant say our limits and preconception, Wittgenstein about limit of languages … When a philosopher give you a point of view or claimed truth or bridge religion and reality etc., run away from it don’t walk! Plato, Marx, … Good luck but I do not think your using of philosophy is necessary.

    • A good photograph should ask as much of a question as it does present a possible interpretation or viewpoint. The trouble is there are very many bad photographs…

  12. Michael Matthews says:

    Dropping back to the original two-part question, the answer is yes. But with emphasis on the word “partially”.

    Every time I look at a site like 500px I see visions of Atlantis being served up time after time. The photos, many showing an admirable level of craftsmanship, become ritual.

    It’s as if the participants have divided themselves into congregations, each adhering to some permutation of faith. They then keep returning to the same church or temple week after week.

    Perhaps I’m just growing old.

    • Can’t help but wonder if that’s a consequence of the ‘formula’ 500px uses to choose its featured photographers, which in itself is a reflection of the aesthetics and personal preferences of the people who run/own the site. Same thing with Flickr and explore, I suppose.

      Interesting – but very true – way of putting it. There isn’t really that much exploration into personal style; maybe it’s fear of failure, maybe it’s complacent happiness, or maybe some just don’t know how?

  13. Tom Liles says:

    Have we partially taken over the job of philosophers to interpret the world?

    I wasn’t sure whether I was going to do this, but the what the hell. I have my ideas about what photography is—I wanted to guard them, keep them secret… Polish them in the vain hope that they’d win me some recognition a decade in the future when I have an idea what I’m doing and how to take a photograph. This is my daydream that’s more comforting as a distant fiction than something that would ever come true, something that I’d actually do [someone going: yes! you can do it, be a photographer! is like fingernails down a blackboard to me].

    But I’ve just decided not to keep my silly secret [which will definitely turn out to have been an unoriginal thought], so…
    Into the breach!
    [I’m with you Roger!]

    The answer to the above question is, No.
    No, no, no.

    Photographers are nowhere near capable of doing what philosophers do [did—only analytical philosophers are taken halfway seriously now. Though “big scheme” philosophy still survives on the continent and in the East]. Nor are they anywhere near as important.

    Photographers are on the level of comedians. Photography, as with all art, at its very, very, very best is on a par with a one liner. The Mona Lisa is a one liner. Any photo of HCB’s is a one liner. Photos, pictures, all of it—no better than a line in a stand up routine, a pub-joke, this kind of thing. That’s all.

    This has probably just enraged, insulted, condescended to a lot of people. What can I say, it’s what I believe.

    A good photograph, like a good joke and any good art, needs no explanation. You either get it or you don’t. Explaining it would be shelf-defeating. Have you ever explained a joke to someone who didn’t get it. It murdered the joke, every time. And likewise photos. Now, if people don’t get your photos, it’s not their fault, it’s yours. You need to learn to tell better jokes. I’m in the process of learning how to tell better jokes.

    But that’s all they are.

    And Art is the faith that there’s more to a one-liner.

    [That last line is a piece of copy I wrote last year and was a treasure to me. I hadn’t shown it to anyone before today. It might be a piece of doggerel to you all; but it’s a gem to me. And I’ve just cast it out on here. That’s how much I value the guys here and MT. Okay, sheesh, that was some pretty self-important drivel. Over. Sorry! Right, 19:00 and time to finish work—to the trains! :)]

    • Tom Liles says:

      “shelf-defeating” wasn’t intentional. I promise…

    • I’ve heard (even said) some good one-liners – but nothing I’d hang on my wall.

    • Whoa, that’s harsh. Interesting, though – can’t argue that good images don’t need explanations, but good images should also make you think: similar to a well-thought out philosophical question. But that’s just me. We can’t always cram meaning into every image – though we might try very hard to do so.

      Isn’t photography art? Isn’t art interpretative? Isn’t philosophy interpretative? Or perhaps I’ve oversimplified here: maybe philosophy is the method, the art/ photography is the output. One certainly cannot produce strong images without a strong philosophy or at very least some sort of idea behind them.

      It’s a good line, though. Certainly made me think…

      • Tom Liles says:

        Thanks for your charity JohnN and Ming.

        One certainly cannot produce strong images without a strong philosophy…

        I agree 100%. The content of the above comment is mine [and why I was shy about sharing it].

        It includes no conception of “good” or “bad.” These are dynamic, subjective, and objective, parameters. Stretching the joke line—most of what used to make me laugh when I was 10, doesn’t have the same effect now I’m 35. Some still does. I have no idea what will, won’t, what will continue to, what won’t… etc., etc. There’s just jokes I get, jokes I don’t. Those I laugh at. Those I don’t.

        good images should also make you think…

        I’m torn whether to get into a dialog or not—I’ve said all I needed to above. The adult thing would be to be confident, sit back and leave it at that. And yet I enjoy the dialog. More than the ideas!…
        The should there, comes from? In my view, any intellectual force in an image is all yours, Ming. As Roger said, “a co-creation.” What independent force have some purposefully arranged dye molecules on paper? None whatsoever. They need you. But again, this thinking… it sounds like explaining the joke to me. Something very precious is lost when you do that. You look at the art, you feel something—this is the transaction, all there is. Don’t skip that line; think again of the import of a phrase like all there is

        …that’s harsh

        Mmm. Perhaps there is value in uncomfortable thoughts. And I’ve heard about your portfolio feedbacks, Ming! 🙂 so perhaps you’re sympathetic to this view? I may have sounded like I was putting philosophers on some Olympian pedestal [and vice-versa photogs]. Well yes. And no. I think the quickest explanation would be to avoid addressing that and saying: “Know Thyself” [we spoke about this one yesterday] is a one liner; the axioms of Euclid are one liners; one of the best mathematical guides ever, “the boundary of a boundary is zero” is a one liner. And so is “Take my wife. Please.”

        I’m completely besotted with the idea of things being in two states at once, and therefore also a third. This is the dynamic philosophy of Hegel—the only philosophy that allows for change, continuous, dynamic, swinging change. It fits with an Einsteinian view of the world — rather than static, porcelian Newtonianism — a view of the World as a self-computing thing. A holistic thing. A unified and divided and unified thing. No, I’ll just say it—Reality as a Self-configuring self-processing language. This is my view now, plainly on view, as it were. Yes, I believe that.

        Is photography “deep”?


        [and yes]

        • There’s value in anything that makes us question things that need to be questioned because we’ve accepted them for too long without understanding the why. At worst we confirm our understanding. At best, we may find some new insights or better ways of doing things.

          One of the things about photography is that there are two layers of interpretation of reality: the photographer, and the viewer. I’m not sure this is necessarily the case with philosophy. You can always come up with better metaphors and clearer syntax to describe an idea, but anything visual is always going to be heavily open to interpretation – the more abstract the concept, the more latitude for misinterpretation.

      • Tom Liles says:

        I will bow out here, as I think I spoil it for everyone with my enthusiastic commenting. I’m sorry everyone! m(. .)m

        This isn’t lachrymose shoe-gazing, or fishing for compliments, etc., I’ve had my turn on the roundabout. I want more goes, but the right thing to do is get out of the way 🙂

        Cheers all: your spin!

    • Tom, you state that like it’s a bad thing. 😉

      “The medium is the message.” – Marshall McLuhan

      Perception is a large part of visual communication and the delivery mechanism affects the perception of the viewer. I suppose in this ADHD world we live in now, that much of what we perceive is simply “one liners”. Where I differ in your viewpoint comes from an aspect of painting (another medium), which can be useful in photography. Yes, viewers will always see photography as photography. In painting, we had to choose how much detail to include and how much to leave out, in that process letting the “mind’s eye” of the viewer complete the image (idea). Rather than “one liners” some photography will stand out because they trigger memory, or that they are memorable, and in this way some images can pass beyond “one liner” status, though only for some viewers. We cannot control the perceptions of viewers, because those vary based upon the experiences of individuals. What we can do is connect with some viewers, and (hopefully) in the process leave a lasting impression.

  14. “We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.”
    T. S. Eliot

    • In some ways, I think that’s the ideal for a photographer: being able to see with fresh eyes all the time.

      • William Blake was with you there:-

        “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man as it is, infinite.”

  15. This is a very cool shot. Great composition!

    • Thanks.

    • I like it a lot too. I noticed that the horizontal composition is radically outside the so-called ‘Rule’ of Thirds – more like Sixths – then that vertically it is actually in harmony with it.

      • Compositional rules are there as serving suggestions – you can always find one that conflicts the others. The concept of balance and what works vs what doesn’t is a lot more about intuition than hard geometry…

  16. As such your thoughts reminded and connected with ..

    To see a world in a grain of sand,
    And a heaven in a wild flower,
    Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
    And eternity in an hour.

    William Blake – Auguries of Innocence

  17. Let the games begin! Hard core news, is as purely editorial as any fictional writing. What is selected? What is rejected or conveniently left out? Does the headline spin “missed expectations” or “improved revenue?” Everything we see, choose, create, share, publish is subjective and reflecting our personal point of view. Photography especially is artistic and interpretive. It doesn’t even masquerade as reality as news does. It’s fitting into two dimensions what was experienced in many more than that. I love photography for this reason. “Is that real or is that Photo-shopped” to me, is a false framing of the question. Every presentation is a philosophical statement. If it can be disguised as “real” or “more faithfully depicting reality”, then I suppose it’s granted a loftier status but it may just be more clever. But every image is equally subjective, reductionistic and expressive. Anyone viewers
    reaction is ultimately an act of co-creation too. What do they see? It’s all a big Rorschach test! But let’s hear from the philosophers!

    • It might not masquerade as news, but images are always chosen to represent news – and we being a visual species, it’s what we see and interpret first. Is it right? Is it accurate? Almost never, since absolute objectivity is near impossible. But who chooses the images? What is their agenda? Etc. Sometimes I find it ironic that HDR is a big deal, but nobody bothers to question the underlying subjectivity of both the medium and interpretation of events in the first place.

      • I agree completely. 🙂

      • David Babsky says:

        “..It might not masquerade as news, but images are always chosen to represent news – and we being a visual species, it’s what we see and interpret first..”

        I disagree: I get my ‘news’ mainly from the radio – which delivers no images – or from the headlines on, say, the London “Evening Standard”. That’s text, not image.

        I regard newspaper – or TV – ‘news’ images as commentaries on, or ancillary to, the spoken or written word.

        Photography’s always been selective (..that’s what makes it an ‘art’, if you like..) – if it were just an unfiltered representation of things around us it would be quite unremarkable.

        • I have to admit, I’ve not turned on my radio in a long time. And I know a lot of people who are like that, too. 🙂

          The headline catches the eye, the image holds it, and if we have time we read the text – or at least that’s the way my brain works. Fastest/ easiest processing first.

          Selective by exclusion, certainly; what we don’t show changes the message just as much as what we do show. Same goes for text, too – some things are implied (but don’t exist in reality) and some are explicit. I wonder how many photographers consider this at the time of composition though?


  1. […] most of us need some sort of affirmation and acceptance. Remember, I did say some time ago that we photographers are really also philosophers as a consequence of the way we interpret, filter and re-present the […]

  2. […] Some weeks ago, I was exchanging emails with a reader from New Zealand; he threw out an interesting thought which has stuck with me since and definitely bears further examination (and I paraphrase to retain context): Where does the work of a photographer begin and end? Have we partially taken over the job of philosophers to interpret the world?  […]

  3. […] Some weeks ago, I was exchanging emails with a reader from New Zealand; he threw out an interesting thought which has stuck with me since and definitely bears further examination (and I paraphrase to retain context): Where does the work of a photographer begin and end? Have we partially taken over the job of philosophers to interpret the world?  […]

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